Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S.—is, for many, the unofficial start for holiday shopping. In recent years, this shopping has come to take one of two approaches. One camp favors the now-traditional early morning trip to a brick-and-mortar location searching for so-called “early-bird” or “door-buster” specials. The other approach, on-line shopping, appeals to consumers who couldn’t be dragged into that shopping frenzy, those who don’t like to wake up early, and those who generally prefer on-line shopping. Some consumers favor a hybrid approach mixing the two methods, hence the rise of so-called “Cyber Monday,” the Monday following Black Friday.


It has been an interesting lead up to the day this year, and, ultimately, retailers approach to supply and demand will effect all shoppers.


For instance, a USA Today story reports that of the consumers surveyed by the National Retail Federation, 81 percent said they will spend less this holiday due to the continued economic downturn. Consequently, retailers are making changes this year to lure shoppers into stores. One of these approaches is to open stores earlier.


In recent years, retailers have begun pushing their store openings back earlier and earlier—in some cases to as early as 4:00am or 5:00am on Friday. But in news that has been widely reported, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Best Buy have all planned midnight openings after Thanksgiving. In a story I saw on The Wall Street Journal, Best Buy Chief Executive Brian Dunn, said he felt forced to “make a very difficult decision” and open at midnight because rival retailers were doing so, even though the decision was controversial inside the company.


On the other hand, there are those on-line shoppers, who, apparently, have already begun their shopping. Chase Paymentech, an acquirer and payment processor, creates a Cyber Holiday Pulse Index to deliver an inside look at consumer on-line shopping trends for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The 2011 Pulse Index actually begins with on-line shopping statistics for the first two weeks of November. So far, significant transaction volume is driving on-line sales up over 25 percent vs. the same period last year. However, average ticket value appears to be continuing a downward trend for the fourth straight year.


That’s not to say, however, that it’ll be easy to find items, either in person or on-line. For example, an article I saw on SupplyChainBrain reports that according to data from trade intelligence provider Panjiva, only a few of the items on this year’s hot holiday toy lists experienced shipment spikes in the months leading up to the holiday, and the total number of shipments was far lower than in previous years.


August through October is typically the timeframe for holiday shipments to arrive at U.S. ports so they can reach stores in time for the holidays. During this period, the “it” holiday toys generally receive at least 300 shipments. In 2009, the article reports, shipments of toys associated with the popular Toy Story franchise surpassed 500 shipments. Likewise, in 2010, shipments of hot toys Squinkies, Paper Jamz, and Zoobles, experienced 305, 312, and 312 shipments, respectively. Shipments of popular toys have yet to reach that level this year.


Shipments of the most-talked-about toys are unusually low, which not only means that eager parents may have trouble finding the goods, but also that retailers may be playing it safe by putting the majority of their investment into proven toys they know will sell, Panjiva CEO Josh Green said in the SupplyChainBrain article.


So in the end, whether consumers are in brick-and-mortar stores at midnight searching for hot toys or the ever-elusive $200 laptop, they will likely be faced with the inevitable “supplies are limited to those on-hand.” It also now appears on-line shoppers looking for “Angry Birds” toys and other hot new items will face the same situation.