But the reality of big-time retail technology is that online and offline operations must be more than integrated; they must actively complement each other.
Each must make the most of its own strengths, with online delivering unparalleled selection, speed, convenience and software-enabled intuition; brick-and-mortars, on the other hand, must focus on the experience. Never before have cushy chairs and great cleaning people meant more.
One old standby that remains relevant despite the prevalence of clicks and bricks is the retail printed newspaper flier. It was even memorialized in that holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street." (You gotta love a 1947 movie starring a single mother who serves by day as a senior executive of a national retail chain.)
The fliers themselves are not necessarily relics. Theyre quaint and do little harm. No, its the secrecy around them thats out-of-date. Retailers are often so anxious that their special Black Friday deal be the best available that they take cold-war precautions to make sure the competition doesnt get wind of their offers.
However, a bunch of Web sites—including BF2005.com, Gottadeal.com and BlackFridayAds.com—have started getting tons of publicity for their sites, which do little other than publicize major retails unannounced upcoming sales.
Alan Smolek, who runs BlackFridayAds.com when the 21-year-old isnt running his online marketing company from his Chicago apartment, said finding people willing to fink out the retailers is surprisingly easy.
Many of his tips come from people working in the printing plants where various fliers are produced, he said.
Publicity surrounding his site and others like it has sent page views flying. A typical day last year saw some 30,000 unique impressions a day, Smolek said, and that figure had climbed to "more than 200,000" earlier this week.
The success of sites like these points out the absurdity of trying to keep these sales secret. Or are they? The divulging sites are delivering a lot of great publicity to the retail sales, at a time when brick-and-mortars are thrilled for anything that attracts attention away from online.
Patricia Norins, the publisher of the Specialty Retail Report, said she thinks the retailers should welcome these sites. "Its kind of a PR opportunity," she said. "Whats the difference if consumers hear about it five days in advance? It sounds like a phenomenal marketing opportunity for retailers who want to create some buzz."
Any sale that will only work if its kept secret until the last minute is likely on fairly flimsy footing. People dont go to the mall for bargains (at least not on Black Friday), so retailers are toying with sales tactics that were more at home when Gimbels fought daily with Macys.
Evan Schuman is retail editor for Ziff Davis Internets Enterprise Edit group. He has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop anytime soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.