The three big success stories at retail this weekend are Best Buy, Walmart, and Apple. The busiest parking lots I saw were at Walmart, which had the appeal of low prices and a wide range of products. Apple’s advantage is not just having products people want, but also a relatively frictionless buying experience. If you wanted to, you could go into the Apple Store and drop $5,000 in less than ten minutes, while being absolutely confident that you had gotten the right things. Products people want and a relatively frictionless buying experience could also be said this year of Best Buy, which did not have the problem of maddeningly thin inventories that had plagued it the last two Christmas seasons. The thin inventories may return at Best Buy before Christmas rolls around, I am told, but for Black Friday, it was properly stocked, and at prices that competed with the likes of Walmart and Sears. The midnight opening on Black Friday also seems to have been a big success at Best Buy, more so than at other retail chains.
These three success stories should not overshadow the many stores that found only modest success on Black Friday weekend. This was not just individual stores, but whole shopping centers where the throngs of shoppers never arrived and the parking lot was never more than one third full. Suburban retail parking lots in the United States are built for Black Friday, so if they are not at least half full at some point during that day, something has gone wrong.