October 23, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Wal-Mart plays Black Friday spoilsport

Wal-Mart plays Black Friday spoilsport
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With a short notice sent to a handful of Web sites last week, the world's largest retailer put a damper on the biggest shopping day of the year for die-hard bargain hunters.

For those who trawl the Web hoping for an edge in finding the best price on the most sought-after item on their holiday shopping lists, finding Black Friday ads ahead of time helps plot out a retail attack. Tracking down the best bargains available on the day after Thanksgiving has become a game for both shoppers and the site owners, who race to see who can get the ads bearing the lowest prices online the earliest.

But Wal-Mart Stores isn't sharing Black Friday fans' fun. A note sent to about 10 Web sites from a Washington, D.C., law firm on behalf of the retailer warned of "criminal penalties" if the sites post any of Wal-Mart's Black Friday advertisements prior to November 19, four days before Black Friday. So far, Best Buy and Circuit City representatives have said they won't be taking legal action if their ads show up on the Web too soon, according to Reuters.

"Over the last couple years it's been kind of an arms escalation between the Web sites and the retailers," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group. "Three years ago it was just a few token Web sites and nobody cared. But the last couple years they've been aggressively soliciting people to find these ads and send them in. Retailers have threatened lawsuits, and since most of these sites are small operators or a single guy, (they) can't really stand up to that kind of (legal) pressure."

So far, it appears Wal-Mart's threat has worked. Many Black Friday sites have said they will comply, though they're not happy about it.

Over the last couple years it's been kind of an arms escalation between the Web sites and the retailers.
--Stephen Baker,
vice president, NPD

In fairness, while it seems like Wal-Mart is being a spoilsport, the retail giant's ire is understandable: The ads are a valuable part of its pricing strategy, and when its competitors know of Wal-Mart's price-slashing plans early enough, they can alter their own prices midstream. Plus, the ads are copyrighted information, whether we like to think of them that way or not.

It's no secret that Wal-Mart is able to offer some of the best bargains in the retail business. So why should the biggest retailer in the world be concerned with a few one-man Web sites? "In general, Wal-Mart's competition knows that Wal-Mart is going to be the most aggressive guy out there, this year they know that as well, they just don't know (for example) the specific notebook model that will be $199," said Samir Bhavnani, analyst with Current Analysis West.

By sending the notices, Wal-Mart is admitting that it (and most other retailers) can't keep a lid on its holiday prices thanks to the many different entities (printers, publishers and others) that have a hand in creating the Sunday circular ads. So when all else fails, bring in the lawyers.

Wal-Mart did not send this type of notice last year, said company spokesman John Simley. While the company has had communication with some Black Friday Web sites before, never has it taken action this early. But Wal-Mart executives want to make clear what's out of bounds before the ads head to publishers.

"The idea is by the time you send a cease-and-desist letter (which some retailers have done in the past) it's already too late," Simley said. "This really is to prevent that from happening in the first place."

Every major retailer has a Web presence now too, which complicates the price-slashing game among retailers even further. "Nowadays you can be a lot closer to the point of sale because of the Internet" and still react, said Baker. "You can do Web-only specials, you can try to drive people to your Web site (to) buy online and pickup (merchandise) in the store."

As is to be expected, many of the sites were none too pleased with Wal-Mart's threat. BFAds.net posted this comment on its front page: "Let's be real here. Walmart is a corporate conglomerate that crushes small towns on its way to world dominance. We're a site on the internet that posts Black Friday Ads. Even if we were in the right in posting Walmart's advertisements, we in no way have the means or time to bother with a potential litigation." The site says it has no alternative but to wait until after November 19 to post any ads it may have received from printers or publications.

Messages posted to the forums on GottaDeal.com, another Black Friday site, show many shoppers vowing to call and e-mail Wal-Mart to voice their displeasure. Some, like commenter "christib327," couldn't understand Wal-Mart's decision. "I think this is crazy and will also be sending an e-mail. Honestly, the early release of the ads is what gets me excited and out there. Wal-Mart is usually at the top of my list to shop BECAUSE I've seen the ad early and can get my game plan together."

Simley said Wal-Mart had received a "few" feedback messages from customers about the Black Friday legal notices, though he refused to characterize the nature of the responses.

But a few unhappy people is probably an amenable tradeoff for Wal-Mart, since there are far more bargain hunters that will shop in stores on Black Friday that are completely oblivious to sites like BFAds.net or BlackFridayAds.com. And those are the people retailers are targeting with their specifically timed ads.

Also, Black Friday Web site fans aren't necessarily the best customers of the retailer anyway, Baker said. "They go to cherry pick a couple things really cheap. That's not going to make a lot of money (for retailers) in the short term or even long term." And though they would say otherwise, the Web masters behind those Black Friday sites are probably "overestimating" the importance of their sites in driving customers to stores, he added.

In other words, people are going to shop anyway. So in the long run, even if some customers are displeased, clamping down on its intellectual property is not only Wal-Mart's right, but it likely won't hurt it at the register come the day after Thanksgiving.

"This is America, nothing has an effect on shopping," Baker said. "Truly the biggest impact on Black Friday is the weather."

See more CNET content tagged:
Black Friday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., retailer, Stephen Baker, notice

56 comments

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eh, screw 'em
On the rare occasion I actually wade into the Black Friday hell to get the early bird deals, I usually figure out where I'm going then go back home to sleep. If Walmart's not on my list, then there's one less place to risk punching someone out at 8 in the morning. Given the current fear over anything Chinese made for lead/e-coli/etc I think Walmart's going to have a tough enough time this holiday since a HUGE percentage of their inventory is all imported.

Besides, fuel's more expensive this year, so is everything else, so everyone's paycheck is going to be stretched thinner this year. Stores know that and will be aggressively pricing throughout the season.
Posted by menty666 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
TNX
Thanks for the sites.
Posted by coachgeorge (233 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another reason to shop elsewhere
Well that surely helps me plan my shopping trip. One less store I have to get to. First they close layaway, now they are going to prosecute web sites that disclose black Friday info. Who really needs all that cheap Chinese crap.
Posted by Tiger1964 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another Reason to Shop Elsewhere
I agree with Tiger 1964... If they want to play "hard to get", I don't much care for the selection of cheap Chinese cr*p anyway. I'll just take them off of my list of places to shop at.
Posted by Save_Me_from_my_Govt (180 comments )
Link Flag
WalMart and Chinese Crap?
People are really stupid if they think that Walmart is the only store that sells 'chinese crap'. Have you looked at where your 50 dollar jeans were made? KMart, Shopko, Sears, Target, etc. import just as much 'crap' from china as Walmart or anyone else for that matter. If you really want to make a difference, stop shopping entirely, or better yet, spend 30 to 50 percent more on goods made in the US, IF you can still find them anymore.
Posted by BeamerMT (64 comments )
Link Flag
re
You better not go to department stores that sell you overly priced china made junk that you buy!
Posted by Intelrules (32 comments )
Link Flag
A Waste of our Time & Money...
The ads are still going to be released day before Black Friday
anyway. Plus Wal Mart doesn't start selling that crap until early
Friday morning anyway, so what's the difference?

No I guess they figured they had some money to waste on some
lawyers instead of doing something about their snooty little idiotic
cashiers that I encounter every single time I go there.
Posted by gsmiller88 (624 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Soft holiday sales
WalMart is already crying about softening sales so what do they do? **** off cheap folks - their base audience.

I hope they have a slow holiday period from now till 12/15 when they are forced to cut prices like there is no tomorrow.

- signed happy to live in an area with no WalMart trash
Posted by faust (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Whatever Erica
She says the ads are copyrighted information whether we like to think of them that way or not.

First of all, what school of journalism produces this style of writing...school of hard knocks. But beyond that, Ads may be copyrighted but that is irrelevant. Facts are not copyrighted.

The price of an item is a newsworthy item, whether Erica likes to think of them that way, or not.
Posted by rdupuy11 (908 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Far from Wal-Mart
One of the many nice things about living in San Francisco is that we will probably never be home to a Wal-Mart with its acres of concrete parking. The cost of getting to and from the nearest Wal-Mart (Oakland Airport?) is almost certainly higher than what I might save shopping there instead of at Costco, BestBuy, and Target. Also, Costco's execs donate to Democratic candidates, unlike the Waltons.
Posted by twasserman (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Me too.
Portland, Oregon. There's one, I believe... and it's in a pretty out-of-the-way part of town.

IMHO, I'd prefer that businesses not donate to any political party. In concept (I know not in practice), government is supposed to serve the people, not companies. A company donating money to a candidate expects something in return... and it ain't always some lofty goal.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
You get what you pay for
If you're dumb enough to shop at WalMart, well . . .
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Easy work around
If the prices are copyright by WalMart, don't post them. If the price is going to be 99.99, post "Less than $100". Alternately, add a random value range of numbers like "Between 99.72 and 100.21". That way WalMart's copyright is respected and shoppers get the info they need to make the best decisions.
Posted by grangerfx (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I will let my money do the talking.....
....as I take it elsewhere. I did almost all of my X-mas shopping at Walmart last year. Never again!
Posted by spartyice (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
THIS Is What Keeps Wal-Mart up at night? puhlease!
being canadian i of course DROOL with envy over the great shopping down there (although i REALLY want TARGET and we dont have those up here, we do have Wal-Mart).

i think it is totally stupid. i mean come on. wal-mart is huge. any press is good press. and the thing about OTHER companies matching their prices etc? that is a pretty lame leg to stand on. but that company is big on controlling their employees, their image, and the world.

how could you expect any less.
Posted by canadian_cnet_fan (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
agreed
Yeah, press gets people talking - it can't be helped.
Posted by j0nny5 (2 comments )
Link Flag
It adds up
Walmart might not make any money off what's on sale, but it's a hook to bring people in, and the customers buy other stuff the store makes money on.

If the customers go somewhere else to buy what's on sale, they will not buy the other stuff at Walmart, either.

It's all about getting wallets in the store. More wallets, more sales.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Free Advertising
Wow.. this is possibly the greatest form of free advertising that I've seen yet. Pretty amazing though when you come to think of it, you can generate bad P.R. for your company and then change over your plan so that people will think that you had a change of heart.

But you were going to do it all along.

Anyone else?
Posted by j0nny5 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
when will consumer show walmart they count
consumers need to stop shopping at bully stores that dont show respect to the consumers i stopped shopping at walmart for a year now if all the consumer stop shopping at walmart things would change and walmart would have to change too
i shop at target, kmart, cosco stores that treat their employees well and consumers well and that do not raid the government on loop holes
Posted by jjcompliant (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who cares?
I've read that 80+ percent of WalMart's offerings has a Chinese
component (meaning all or part of the item is manufactured in
China)

I don't care what their prices are, they can keep their CCS ( cheap
chinese s*it)
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wal-Mart & Chinese Crap
Beamer: I don't remember writing, or even implying, that Wal-Mart was the only source of Chinese cr*p. I remember when Sam was alive all of the "USA-made" signs in the store...but that was the "good ol' days."

I myself try to spend a little more and buy USA-made stuff whenever I can. It's getting harder and harder to do. But I agree with you! I'm not just picking on Wal-Mart; but you have to admit they've certainly become an entire chain of "Made in China" goods, and it's difficult to find much of anything there, except in the food aisles, that isn't a Chinese import.
Posted by Save_Me_from_my_Govt (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
food
good percentage of food does come from china. like seafood.
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
Criminal penalties??
OK -- Three years of law school; more than a few years in the field, and I'm a little lost. Exactly what "criminal penalties" is WalMart going to try to "enforce?" Who appointed WalMart a law enforcement agency with authority to threaten criminal sanctions? What's illegal about printing competitive price information? Who is going to enforce this alleged crime: their private security guards?

Last I checked working to keep competitive information out of the hands of consumers is definitely not criminal.

Of course, the same can't be said for conspiring or colluding against consumers to prop up pricing. That is very much illegal, and it sounds -- admittedly on limited information -- like there may be an argument that WalMart (and their Ace lawyers) are doing exactly this.

Somehow I don't think any loyal Bushies from justice are going to be calling them about this, but President Hillary's justice department is going to be very different. Some foresight may be highly advisable, WalMart.
Posted by michaelo1966 (159 comments )
Reply Link Flag
theft
well, theft of corporate information is a crime. Maybe you would like someone working at the company that processes your payroll to post your SSN and other information on the internet.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
Law Student?
Three years into law, and you are gullible enough to be using "Bushies"? Better hope no one researches your net presence.

As for Hillary, she will replace "rule of law" with "rule of Hillary". A law student should know what that means:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/" target="_newWindow">http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/</a>

Did you attempt to find what the spokesman actually meant or said? or do you rely on a popular news media source for your information? Better change your name, the law firms are not going to be impressed.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Wal-Mart
Whether any of you shop in Walmart, Target, Sears, K-Mart, J.C. Penney, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Bloomingdales, or your neighborhood retailer, etc. you will be purchasing goods manufactured in countries with cheap labor, no pollution controls, no product standards (except what the seller requires to make the sale) and YOU WILL BUY FROM ONE OF THEM ANYWAY!! Why? Because we Americans have been brainwashed to believe WE MUST shop for the latest, greatest piece of garbage to fill our landfills during the coming year before it is time to REPLACE IT with the next latest, greatest piece of garbage.

The worst part is that most of America purchases all of this UNNECESSARY CRAP on PLASTIC.

HMMM? Do you think maybe we don't NEED all of this CRAP?
Posted by charles kohm,jr. (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree...we don't need the crap...except...
...the crap is what we get anyway you look at it.

The price of ANYTHING made in the US these days is outrageously high, and few can afford it. We get to eat irradiated food...genetically altered food...flavored cardboard...and we accept that too! We Americans, by and large, aren't too bright, are we?

We can't control it all at once, obviously (our government does), but we can control some a little at a time. I will NOT purchase ANYTHING made in China. I check all labels before I purchase. If everyone did that, the message would be sent...China sales would plummet.
Posted by sgt1035 (27 comments )
Link Flag
If any other company did this
There wouldn't be any hate. And everyone knows this.

Business is business, and profits are profits. 4 days to get your monies together before black Friday is MORE THAN ENOUGH time!
Posted by strongpimphand (91 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Respectfully disagree
I respectfully disagree with this comment. While yes there may not be as much hype if this were another store, but because Wal-Mart has already given itself the name that it has has being degrating to it's employees and unfair to consumers it is going to receive more heat than other companies may. With that being said I don't really feel that 4 days is enough to get your money together obviously you're not someone who lives on a fixed income and any extra time is helpful. I don't understand why Wal-mart would even care if these ads are posted early oh wait this isn't about the consumers it's about the almighty dollar. SAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by Nikkir14 (1 comment )
Link Flag
First leak on Walmart's ad:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.dealtaker.com/First-Leak-on-WalMart-Black-Friday-2007-ad-t149764.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.dealtaker.com/First-Leak-on-WalMart-Black-Friday-2007-ad-t149764.html</a>
Posted by BillGuy (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wal-Mart ad LEAKED!!
LOL Yep funny! LOL nice...
Posted by Mike_in_Florida (15 comments )
Link Flag
deleted
guess somebody from wal-mart did not like my RV postings and had them deleted.

Wow. Scary
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ROTFL... who needs Wal-Mart?
No, seriously.

There is exactly one (yes, only one) Wal-Mart in Portland, Oregon that I am aware of (and nother in Newport on the Coast, plus maybe a handful scattered elsewhere in the state).

It was something I noticed when I moved out here.

Now, I'm originally from Northwest Arkansas - a region where you almost literally cannot swing a dead cat in a crowd without braining a Wal-Mart employee... for obvious reasons (Wal-Mart HQ is in Bentonville).

All that said, here's the deal. I once figured Wal-Mart to be this huge and indispensable thing. Fact is, it isn't. If I can't find it locally, I can get it online from anywhere.

In many cases, the prices are a touch higher - a buck or two at the most. but the prices are compensated for by smaller crowds, friendlier staff, and a far shorter amount of time spent in finding a decent parking spot.

Getting groceries w/o Wal-Mart is a pleasant task again (and finding entire Asian-specific grocery stores up in this area makes it even more of an enjoyable experience - as in whole stores with [i]real[/i] Asiatic food, not a single aisle stocked with MSG-packed americanized versions of the stuff).

Buying some household item is nice when you know it won't come apart on you two months after you get it home.

If I have a problem with something I buy, I don't have to fight parking and ginormous crowds at the service desk just to get it taken care of.

I can finally shop in a store that doesn't have 9,000 cameras tracking my every move as I walk through it.

Saturday Markets (in Portland and Beaverton) are alive with small business, and friendly people. I can get fresh veggies that haven't been shipped by truck from ten states away.

I can post lots of other nice things that I've discovered w/o Wal-Mart, but honestly, most folks I think would find it sufficient with what's posted already. :)

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Then they take themselves out of the market
Why take the advantage away from people that want to shop with you? So we can wait to the last minute to decide whether we will spend Friday morning at Wal-Mart?

Not Me. I am going where I know the good deals are going to be...in advance.

I don't want to play games with my shopping money.

So Wal-Mart just count me out.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
things to pirate , Movies , Music, Walmart add
If people can pirate movies and music I'm sure a walmart add won't be much of a match.
Posted by goneoutflying (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wal-Mart
That's just another reason for me to stop shopping there.
I used to got to Wal-Mart exsclusively, now I go about once a month.
It seems that all they want is every nickel out there and they don't rally care how they get it.

Thank You
Posted by 1957joe (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Copyright claims are incorrect - please update or elaborate story
The article mentions that posting black friday information would be a copyright violation. Copyright claims would only apply if sites were posting scans of the ads. Just posting product names and prices would not violate copyright laws, unless they try to pull some bizarre DMCA claim.

And Wal-Mart says that there could be criminal penalties? Even if there was some sort of copyright violation, how would that amount to something criminal? That would be civil as far as I know. Wal-Mart sounds like they are just trying to scare people with their legal staff.
Posted by bluon (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's how it applies
Copyright infringement: the argument would be that since the pricing information is intended for publication at some point, releasing this information beforehand IS a violation of copyright in so much as the replication of said information [i]in any published form, even if it's not a direct copy of the future ads,[/i] violates the creator's (Wal*Mart) rights to control the distribution of the pricing information as they deem fit. It can be argued that prior publication of that data--whether by print or by website--is then in violation of that copyright. The information is what is copyrighted, not the print ads themselves.

Criminal violations: two points. Not only is the pricing information argued to be protected by copyright, it can be deemed as 'trade secrets', since it's pretty clear that this is part of Wal*Mart's marketing strategy for their business operations following Thanksgiving. Revealing such privileged information loosely amounts to corporate espionage, particularly since WM's competitors can gain a strategic advantage by the early release of this data. Moreover, WM more than likely has contractual agreements with their various publishing partners on data privacy and restricting release of this data; anyone getting this information, even if there was little in the way of arm-twisting or bribery, would then be seen as acquiring what amounts to stolen property.
Posted by make_or_break (3747 comments )
Link Flag
 

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