Q&A: Black Friday watcher: Amazon's the one to beat; tablets will be hot sellers

Look for slight markdowns, decent gift card bundling with Apple products

Black Friday deals for computers, tablets and other tech offerings started "leaking" out as early as October and now a week before the big post-Thanksgiving shopping day, most retailers' plans are known.

We swapped email earlier this month with Black Friday watcher Michael Brim of BFads.net for some help in sorting out this season's trends.

The first Black Friday ads this year were released in early October?

Fred's was the first Black Friday ad posted this year. It was posted on Oct. 11.

RELATED: 17 eye-popping Black Friday tablet, computer and smartphone deals

Can anyone in the tech retail industry really compete with Amazon, now especially in light of it already starting up Black Friday deals in early November? 

On a total scale? Probably only Walmart and Target. Best Buy and NewEgg can be pretty competitive in the tech sector too, they just don't have the variety of items that Amazon, Target and Walmart carry (i.e. no apparel, housewares, etc.)

What do you anticipate being hot trends in Black Friday deals this year among tech companies and retailers that sell tech products (such as computers, tablets, phones)?

Laptops and televisions are the biggest drivers for getting people in the store. I don't think the iPad mini is going to generate that much traffic (it didn't in Asia), but I do think that tablets are getting to the point where they are cheap and powerful enough to sway people who may already have a laptop but want something a bit smaller and more portable. (See also: Black Friday could be big for Android device buyers.)

I also think the Wii U will have an understated release, but will still sell out, despite the lack of press it is receiving.

Should we expect anything from Apple this year, or Apple retailers?

Apple won't let stores sell their products for much less than the MSRP and Apple itself rarely discounts more than 10% on Black Friday. That being said, retailers have gotten around this by pairing gift-cards with the Apple products (for example buy an iPod touch and get a $50 Best Buy gift certificate). These are the best deals we've seen on Apple products.

Last year you talked about how Thanksgiving Day itself has become a big day for online sales. Will that be the case again, or will it happen even earlier?

Kohl's already announced they're starting their online Black Friday sales on Wednesday, Nov. 23 - two full days before the in-store sales are set to begin. I still think Wednesday night/Thanksgiving morning will be the launch date for most online Black Friday sales. Amazon is an exception in that they do a week of Black Friday sales, but their best sales are to be had Wednesday through Friday.

I saw an item on Best Buy price matching to offset "showrooming" - people cruising its showrooms but then going online to shop elsewhere. Expect others to follow suit?

Target has enacted a similar policy, but most of these do not apply during Black Friday (or even the week of). I think show-rooming is a bit blown out of proportion for everything except TVs. Unfortunately, there is a major caveat (giving the store associate final authority) in the price-matching policy. So I don't think this will greatly affect people's shopping habits.

Other hot trends this year in Black Friday sales?

Nothing really comes to mind. I think tablets will be relatively big just because of their modest price-point, but that's really it. Home appliances are always big, but I don't know if that's something worth highlighting on Network World.

Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog and Facebook page, as well on Twitter and Google +

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