Black Friday Blues and Small Business News

Nothing says Thanksgiving like a Christmas tree lighting at mall with a past American Idol winner. Right? This past weekend, for some yet unknown reason, I arrived reluctantly at the Macy’s Christmas tree lighting and jingle at the Domain (Simon Malls) in north Austin, waiting for Jordin Sparks to perform. I never got to see her perform, or rather, didn’t stay that long. After the Austin Girls’ Choir performed in their 1800s wassailing outfits and prior to some guy with an acoustic guitar and a fog machine (or something equally ridiculous), the crowd was forced to watch a bunch of hokey commercials for brands that I assume can be found in Macy’s department stores, ready and waiting to be purchased on Black Friday. The whole event put a damper on my entire weekend.

Children lollygagged around, bored and listless, with not much to stimulate their minds—no activities, no play areas set up. The guy standing in front of me was heard to utter “This sucks” under his breath several times. The event, though described as a family affair, was clearly more targeted to adults—those humans with wallets and credit cards and the power to buy lingering inventory. It was no surprise that the new store Vivo Chocolato! was brimming with parents and kids alike. (Chocolate, in my mind, is very much the G-rated version of an alcoholic beverage.) Thinking about the economy makes me want to get choco-faced.

Thanksgiving isn’t even here, and it seems that people have been talking about Black Friday since before Halloween. Following the recession this year, the post-holiday shopping sale event has a special significance. It could actually make or break many businesses. That reality has caused many retailers to slash prices to such an extent that has never before been seen. “In response [to the recession], retailers have been rolling out non-stop bargains. Wal-Mart offered 10 popular toys for $10 in October, Toys “R” Us has touted its “lowest prices of the season” and Gap Inc offered 30 percent off last weekend — all well before Thanksgiving,” writes Nicole Maestri (Reuters).

As I wrote in my previous Black Friday post, there are quite a few deals out there, and there is also plenty of time to buy. Many retailers are opening their stores as early as midnight and extending the sales through the entire weekend. Online retailers are planning to promote sales until Monday, which is aptly being called Cyber Monday. As a small business owner, you’re trying to save money and trim spending during this time. But it may be wise to purchase while the deals are good and the equipment is low-cost. Thanks to a change in the 2008 Federal Tax Code, tax write-offs for property that directly relates to business activities (such as printers, scanners, projection screens, etc.) are at an all-time high (MarketWatch). It is likely that businesses will save more by purchasing now rather than by waiting until they have extra in their budgets. If you’re upgrading your equipment from equipment that is used and not malfunctioning, then donate your old equipment to a place like Goodwill. You’ll get a tax receipt, which allows you to write off even more. It’s a good thing.

To keep up with consumers who are now thoroughly discriminating value from price, retailers will have to know exactly what consumers are looking to buy this season and shrewdly price items. The “price-as-product-feature” model is going to have to go away, at least for a while. Not many people are thinking that expensive is necessarily better anymore. They’re going to have to evaluate the crappy coffee they buy every morning from Starbucks. Maybe people will finally realize that $5 really is way, way, too much for unhealthy additives that make the bland coffee taste better and the rather noisy, energy-wasting “barista ambience.”

While you’re in between shopping trips, check out products that can help save your business time and money spent researching products and services, such as Internet fax services and virtual PBX services.

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