Looking For A Little Respect On Black Friday

NEW YORK— Peruse all those “leaked” Black Friday ads and you’ll get a vivid picture of where housewares rates in the retail food chain heading into this all-important holiday shopping season.
Most consumers plan to spend less this year on holiday gifts. Many say they’ll be more practical with their purchases, but what they buy is still up for grabs.
Better housewares should be in the sweet spot of this new consumer sensibility. I expected that to be reflected in some eye-popping, high-caliber housewares surprises in Friday’s ads. However, with some exceptions (Dyson’s aggressive price-cutting on select vacs among them) housewares was presented too often as holiday filler— throwaway commodities instead of valuable keepers.

Wishful Thinking

Maybe it is wishful to think housewares, with its reinforced value proposition for these tight times, can punch through the high-definition dazzle of flat screen TVs, Blu-ray players, laptops, iPods and smart phones trying to cast a spell on the shopping priorities of even the most frugal spenders. But all those Black Friday housewares deals at $9.99 and $19.99 hardly give the category the look of a powerhouse.
The topper was a $3 door-buster on select kitchen electrics by a certain “shabby chic” mass retailer. That’s right: $3 kitchen electrics. That looks plain shabby. It’s the kind of shortsighted tactic that sinks the perception of housewares to lower depths, cheapening it to stocking-stuffer status, right there with Pez dispensers and dental floss.
All this accomplishes at the highest-profile time of the year for housewares is to reinforce the fact that everyday prices for basics in this business have been compressed so much already that there isn’t much margin with many products to show an irresistible high-low value for the holiday rush. Opening pricepoints already get plenty of action in housewares throughout the year. Why waste so much promotional energy on them now?
Loading up opening-price slots for a few frenzied shopping hours on Black Friday sends the wrong message about the housewares industry. This is the one day of the year just about every retailer can worry less about driving traffic to the stores and more about driving traffic to the most productive items on the shelves.

Smarter Buy

More retailers might be pleasantly surprised if they concentrated more of their Black Friday promotional effort in housewares on bigger-ticket products and brands that can be dangled for a fleeting, irresistible shopping moment at never-before-seen and never-to-be-seen-again prices. Then, when those prices are history, keep the consumer hooked throughout the holidays with bold, new promotions that inflate the value rather than deflate the price.
What’s a smarter buy: $149 on a high-quality, long-lasting stainless steel cookware set for someone who needs it; or $79 on a GPS navigation system for someone who doesn’t need much help finding their way to and from work or the supermarket?
This industry believes the stainless steel cookware set will be in action long after the GPS is tossed into the glove compartment. Is everyone doing enough to convince Friday’s shoppers to believe it as well?

High Visibility

It’s up to housewares suppliers and buyers to make sure that cookware set, with its compelling added-value offer, gets its fair share of the hype— along with other key housewares items— during intense, high-visibility promotional periods such as the one set to begin in the pre-dawn hours of Friday.
There is something to be said for basic housewares as a relatively stable performer amid the retail uneasiness of the past year. Many core housewares products, buoyed by their inherent practical qualities, should be fairly well-positioned heading into the holidays.
Still, housewares often seems to have fought harder this year for respect among retailers. Inventory slashing has been carried out across all classifications with an indiscriminate ax, the risk of overage in the bottom line trumping the risk of shortchanged revenue from a given category in the top line.
Many in the housewares industry have countered, despite slimming margins, with creative new products intended to give consumers more for their money at suitable prices, not more options for retailers to cram into some pre-determined low-ball price slots. Vendors are trying to move housewares beyond basic into something a little more special, worthy of a Black Friday showdown against all those flashy tech toys.
Shoppers might have to discover that for themselves on Friday morning. And don’t be surprised if the Scooby-Doo Pez dispenser looks pretty darn good to many of them compared to that $3 coffeemaker.