CHICAGO – The retail industry apparently has more leaks than a rusty water pipe.
Just look at the advertisements for Black Friday megasales posted on “deal” websites weeks before the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree.
When they pop up on BlackFriday2010 or other sites, they often are portrayed as secrets unveiled. Some look like frantically scanned copies, something so valuable and illicit they were worth stealing by someone, perhaps at the printing plant or loading dock.
But are they really “leaks”?
Sometimes, yes. But sometimes, insiders say, the Black Friday ads are released with a wink and nod by retailers or associates such as ad agencies. Operators of Black Friday deal sites estimate that about half of ads come from retailers, released strategically to get the most bang for their advertising buck.
Olympia Sports, a sporting goods store in the Northeast, leaks its ads every year, said Marketing Manager Linda Hogan.
“We sent it in ourselves,” she said, putting Olympia Sports among the first to appear on many of the deal sites this year. “We’re just trying to let our customers know what we have for early-bird items.”
It wasn’t always this way.
A few years ago, officials at nearly all top retailers were ticked off when their Black Friday doorbuster deals were posted early online. Their corporate lawyers fired off stern cease-and-desist letters to the high-tech blabbermouths.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to their indignation; some retailers found that leaks were good for business.
“When we first started, people somehow got hold of ads, and we’d post them,” said Michael Brim, founder of Black Friday leak site BFAds.net. “Stores didn’t like that. Now our site is so popular, and we drive so many customers, that some retailers send us their Black Friday ads directly.”
Brad Wilson, who operates BlackFriday2010.com, estimates that about half of leaked ads come from retailers, a number confirmed by other deal sites.
“It’s probably about 50-50, down from three, four or five years ago, when 80 percent of them were (truly) leaked,” he said.
Lowe’s and Staples have some of this year’s Black Friday bargains on their Facebook fan pages.
Wal-Mart remains sensitive to leaks, say operators of deal sites. This year, it sent out pre-emptive letters warning deal sites not to leak its Black Friday ad if they get it. The company also posted a 24-page preview of its sales on its Facebook page.
Spokespeople for Target and Best Buy said they did not leak their own ads.