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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Web sites again ferret out retailers' secret specials

Shoppers crowded Toledo's Westfield Franklin Park on last year's 'black Friday.' Shoppers crowded Toledo's Westfield Franklin Park on last year's 'black Friday.'

With Thanksgiving a mere two weeks away, Web sites listing bargains that national retailers plan to feature on Nov. 24 have begun revealing those closely guarded secrets once more, much to the dismay of some big chains.

Black Friday Internet sites thus far have uncovered specials to be offered by nine large retailers, including Kmart, Sears, J.C. Penney, Office Max, Ace Hardware, and KB Toys.

Plus, this year, an army of spies have ferreted out a partial list of specials to be offered by other chains, such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Target.

For example, Ace Hardware will be selling an RCA Lyra five-gigabyte MP3 player for $99; Penney a 46-piece dinnerware set for $29; and Kmart an 18-volt Craftsman cordless drill for $40 on the day after Thanksgiving, according to the sites.

Michael Brim, a California college student who runs the site www.bfads.net, said it looks like consumers might find better deals this year than last year.

"There are reports that retailers didn't meet their sales quota for the quarter, so it looks like there are lower price points this year," he said.

"We're getting reports that Best Buy will offer a $200 laptop [computer]. Whether that's true or not, that would be pretty unreal if they end up doing it."

Retail analyst Burt Flickinger said, "Retailers don't want to be outsmarted by their own shoppers."

The Web sites have given shoppers an advantage they didn't previously have - extra time to plan their holiday shopping and strategize on how to save money, he said.

Some retailers remain miffed that the information keeps getting leaked.

But it's almost impossible to stop it, said George Whalin, of Retail Management Consultants, San Carlos, Calif. "This stuff is done weeks in advance and it has to go to a printer. Somebody is always going to leak these things, and they get scanned and pasted up to a Web site."

For the last few years, www.bfads.net, www.blackfri-

dayads.com, and blackfriday.gottadeal.com have published the information in advance of the official kick-off of the Christmas shopping season. The day is called black Friday because it has been when stores' financial results moved from the red into the black.

Shoppers this holiday season will spend $457 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Mr. Whalin said some companies have stopped trying to fight the Web sites. "I think Wal-Mart has decided that you can't beat 'em," he said. "They've essentially published part of their Black Friday offerings already."

The mega-retailer announced price rollbacks last week on nearly 100 electronic items, including high-definition televisions, digital cameras, and cell phones. A Wal-Mart spokesman said other black Friday specials will be announced closer to Thanksgiving.

Sears is one of the firms unhappy with the Web sites, and a spokesman declined to comment on what's posted this year. The retailer will talk about its specials on its own Web site.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theb lade.com

or 419-724-6128.

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