While Black Friday still marks the official beginning of the holiday shopping season, things will be a little different this year. Not only will shoppers be using their smartphones and tablets to comparison shop, but we've noticed an interesting trend emerging, in which retailers tie early promotions to loyalty programs.
Already, Lowe's, Sears, and Target have pushed "sneak peeks," promising either a preview of the store's Black Friday ad, or actual advance access to the deals themselves. The catch? Customers must be willing to register for the store's loyalty or rewards program. It's a brilliant strategy really: Black Friday shoppers feverishly crave information and access, and retailers are forever looking for ways to hook consumers in the long-term. As such, we wouldn't be surprised to see other retailers join in on the game before Black Friday 2012 is out.
So what exactly is this trio of stores offering consumers who hop aboard the loyalty train? And is it worth it? Here's a rundown of what each has (or had) in store for Black Friday shoppers this year.
Lowe's Offers Ads... that Eventually Everyone Can See Anyway
First out of the gate with such an offer was Lowe's. Had you signed up for the free MyLowe's card, the home supply store would have sent an email with a link to a sneak peek of its Black Friday sales. However, it appears that no one gets to actually buy any of these items until Black Friday itself. Moreover, once the "sneak peek" email went out, the promotion was almost instantly "leaked" for all to see.
Is It Worth It?
The good news about this promotion, though, is that MyLowe's is about as harmless a loyalty program as was ever invented. It doesn't cost anything to be a part of, and only acts as a way to recall what you've already bought from Lowe's, so you can buy it again. There are, as you'll see, way worse loyalty programs out there.
Sears Offers Early Access to Sales
Sears will allow its Shop Your Way members early access to its Black Friday doorbusters deals, actually letting customers buy these bargains (unlike Lowe's) before everyone else. Sign up for free, then pop into your local Sears on November 18 any time after 6 pm and through November 20 at 1 am to shop the sale before the "commoners" do on Wednesday, November 21. Quantities of doorbusters are limited, though, so it's still ideal to show up early. It's also not clear whether the deals that members buy will be deducted from the overall doorbuster stock for the regular Black Friday sale. If so, a lot of people might be first on line at a Sears store on Black Friday, only to find that stock is already sold out.
Is It Worth It?
As far as loyalty programs go, Sears' Shop Your Way it fairly middle-of-the-road. Members earn 10 points for every $1 they spend at Sears (and its sister companies Kmart, Lands' End, and MyGofer) which can be redeemed for discounts on future purchases. If you frequently shop at Sears et al., it might be worth signing up.
Get Exclusive Sale Items Through Target
Demanding more loyalty than other stores, Target requires that you be a REDcard cardholder to gain access to its early Black Friday deals. Open up a REDcard credit card or debit card account, and you'll unlock exclusive Black Friday sale items available for purchase on November 21.
Is It Worth It?
Aside from early access to its online Black Friday sales, Target also offers all REDcard members 5% off online and in-store, and free shipping on all orders. We've said before that opening a new credit card just to get a "deal" is never a good idea. Getting into a new financial entanglement just to get a jump on Black Friday sales is probably an even worse idea. Make sure this is a card that you can manage, and that has lasting value for your shopping needs.
In the past, we've seen other merchants offer "peeks" at their Black Friday sales in exchange for Facebook "Likes," and we expect those kinds of promotions again this year. However, as stores see the appeal of leveraging loyalty for Black Friday gains, more will likely fall in line with Lowe's, Sears, and Target as time goes on. After all, a "Like" is cheap and can be undone within minutes, but a credit card puts a few more "hooks" into you.
Front page photo credit: Blue Grass