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Black Friday was golden for TV and computer sales

The number of items sold was up after Thanksgiving compared with last year, a report says. But customers grabbed bargains and ended up spending less on consumer electronics -- $2.7 billion, down 1.2%.

December 10, 2009|By David Colker
  • Shoppers look for Black Friday deals on televisions at a Best Buy store in Fort Worth.
Shoppers look for Black Friday deals on televisions at a Best Buy store in… (Tom Pennington / Getty Images )

Holiday shopper Thanety Bunseam was reluctant to buy anything big this year, but a few days ago the 57-year-old factory worker could be seen resting on the curb outside a Best Buy store with his quarry: a 52-inch LCD TV and a new Sony PS3 game console.

"I got it free with the TV," he said, pointing to the PS3. "They have the game with the TV, so now I buy."

Retail sales: An article in Thursday's Business section about sales during the week of Nov. 22 through Nov. 28 said the amount spent by shoppers on consumer electronic items was $1.2 billion. The correct figure is $2.7 billion. —

Despite tough economic times, consumers like Bunseam are shelling out money this year for big-ticket electronics such as computers and flat-panel televisions.

During the week of Black Friday, a critical period for beleaguered retailers, the number of computers sold rose a whopping 63% over the previous year while LCD TV sales were up 15%, market research firm NPD said Wednesday.

But there was a downside.

The main reason for the increased sales volume was deep discounts -- so much so that overall revenue for consumer electronics was lower than last year, NPD said.

Combined sales totaled $1.2 billion for Nov. 22 through Nov. 28. That was down 1.2% for the Black Friday week in 2008.

At least that was a smaller decline than last year. In 2008, spending was down 3.4% from 2007.

"This year retailers and manufacturers knew it wasn't going to be about increasing revenue," said NPD analyst Stephen Baker. "It needed to be about getting consumers excited to shop and moving those products out of the stores."

He expects the spending pattern for electronics to continue through the holidays.

"The overall picture is better than last year," Baker said. "But don't expect to see any sales growth, in dollars, in the industry."

Laptop computer sales were certainly aided by slashed prices. The average price tag on a laptop last year for Black Friday was $638, according to NPD. This year it was $475. That's a decline of a little more than 25%.

But there was another factor.

Both Microsoft and Apple came out with updated operating systems in the last few months.

This made getting a new computer, often with a faster processor and more memory, especially attractive.

"If there was the right product and the right price, consumers were very willing to go out and buy," Baker said.

"There was not a reluctance to spend, there was a reluctance to spend too much."

Shoppers were well aware that they were in the driver's seat.

"This year everything was about value," said Hovik Pogosian, a salesman at the Best Buy store in Atwater Village.

"When shoppers came in, what they wanted to know was: 'How big of a TV can I get for a cheap price?' "

Nationwide, the average price for an LCD TV during the Black Friday sales period was $501. Last year it was $642. That's a drop of about 22%.

There were also promotions designed to lure buyers, and many of them continued into last week.

Inside the Best Buy store, shoppers trolled for deals. Corporate pilot Dennis Kim, 39, was inspecting a lineup of open-box TVs. "You can get a good bargain here," he said.

Jose Gonzalez, 44, was looking at a 32-inch TV with a built-in DVD player. "It's for my little boy, to watch cartoons," he said. But it cost nearly $600, so he planned to shop around in hopes of finding a better price.

"It's scary, now," said Gonzalez, who works as an elevator mechanic. "You have to think about everything. First you provide for the home and food -- the rest is extra."

Some smaller electronic items also racked up higher unit sales than last year.

The number of camcorders sold nationwide was up 55%. That included the relatively inexpensive flash-drive models such as the Flip.

Average price for a camcorder was $135, down about 33% from 2008.

GPS navigation device sales were up, but only about 15%. Price might have had something to do with that. The average this year was $122, a comparatively mild drop of about 15%.

No matter how low the prices got, they were still daunting to many.

Jose Corea, 52, of Los Angeles was at the Best Buy with his wife and daughter.

They looked longingly at an Insignia-brand, 42-inch television that was selling for $699.

But it had been a tough year. He had closed the grocery store he owned, and was now unemployed.

They decided to pass on buying the TV.

"I have the money for it, now," Corea said. "But you never know what will happen."

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