By MICHAEL BARBARO
For retailers, the day after Thanksgiving is a painstakingly
Prices are scientifically slashed, down to the penny. Sales begin at
dawn. And glossy circulars containing the well-laid plans are
distributed just a day or two ahead to keep consumers and competitors
in the dark.
Or at least that is how it worked before people like Michael Brim came
along. From a cramped dorm room in California, Mr. Brim, an
18-year-old college freshman who dines on Lucky Charms and says he
rarely shops, is abruptly pulling back the curtain on the biggest
shopping day of the year.
His Web site, http://BF2005.com, publishes the circulars for what
retailers call Black Friday -- the day that officially starts the
holiday shopping season -- weeks ahead of time.
So far this year, sources have leaked advertisements to him from Toys
"R" Us (showing the Barbie Fashion Show Mall, regularly $99.99, for
$29.97); Sears (a Canon ZR100 MiniDV camcorder, regularly $329.99, for
$249.99); and Ace Hardware (a Skil 12-volt drill, regularly $44.99,
Mr. Brim says his motive is to educate consumers. But retailers are
furious, arguing that the site jeopardizes their holiday business, and
they have threatened legal action.
But http://BF2005.com is not their only problem. There are now at
least three Web sites dedicated to digging up Black Friday sales
secrets, creating a fierce competition to post the ads first. It is so
heated, in fact, that all three sites stamp the circulars with bright
electronic watermarks to discourage rivals from stealing a scoop.
The renegade sites, whose popularity is growing, highlight how much
the Web is shifting the balance of power in retailing from companies
to consumers. Big national chains used to control discounts carefully,
and shoppers were lucky to stumble into a sale at a store or receive
an e-mail message promising free shipping. Today, however, online
forums encourage strangers to exchange hard-to-find online coupon
codes, and they offer instructions on how to combine rebates with
one-day sales to cut retail prices in half.
For the discount warriors who run these sites, Black Friday is the
best chance to share their techniques, not to mention their zeal, with
the masses who pay full price.