Last Thursday and Friday, I tore myself from the comfortable bosom of my nice, warm office and went to report on some Black Friday deals. Aside from the interminable lines and overwhelming crowds, it was a pretty good time. This Black Friday was one of the largest in recent memory, a statistic that doesn't surprise me even a little. By 1:00 AM Friday morning the line outside of Best Buy was more than 200 people long.
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Though the crowds were insane on Black Friday, the buying frenzy was less so. The doorbuster deals went fast, like they always do, but there were a great deal of big-ticket items that failed to move with the same speed. HDTVs were one of the most popular items of the day, yet there were still dozens upon dozens of 32"-40" devices on the sales floor when I left.
Video games, music, DVDs, and handheld gaming machines, on the other hand, sold like hotcakes. Consumers were (and still are) looking forward to a smaller, more economically sustainable Christmas this year. While new plasma TVs and $1000 computers might be out of most folks' budget, a Nintendo DSi or Sony PSP is affordable and guaranteed to make the kids happy.
The same thing seemed to be true of smartphones as well. Every desk in the mobile phone section was filled with customers every time I walked through. Almost without exception, they were buying smartphones. The magic price point for 'big' gifts this year is around $200. Smartphones are both practical, and affordable, making them the perfect recession-Christmas present.
On Black Friday morning I walked through the Best Buy line to find out what people were standing around in the middle of the night to wait for. Almost unanimously, the answer was laptops. Specifically, Sony Vaio, HP, and Toshiba laptops. Most folks stated they were looking at $300-$500 mid-range machines.
It appears that the public's fascination with netbooks has started to wear off. While several of the sub-$300 models sold well, they weren't the most popular PC sales I saw this weekend. Cheap Windows 7 laptops offer more of the features that customers want, and have large enough monitors and keyboards to be comfortably useful. Netbooks still have a market, but the recent slashes in price have made owning a full-size notebook a better proposition for most people.
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As holiday sales wear on, I expect we'll continue to see high sales for mid-range laptops, and low-cost consumer electronics like smartphones, gaming devices, and PMPs. The iPod touch will sell well, as will gadgets like the Flo TV. HDTVs like the Dynex 40" and the Samsung 32" should still see brisk sales from most retailers, but the gadgets are going to rule this holiday season.
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