Amazon and Walmart: Weekend Sprint Over, Holiday Marathon Begins

Thanksgiving online sales may have gone above $1 billion for the first time. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) may have had record-breaking Black Friday sales. But the big Thanksgiving holiday weekend has ended, and the marathon to December 31 has begun. It is over the next 30 days, that the winners in holiday sales will be determined.

One of the biggest questions about Thanksgiving and Black Friday is whether they pull sales that would have been made in December. If so, and holiday sales are a zero-sum game, December may be disappointing for most retailers. If consumers have not satisfied their appetite for purchases and have more money in reserve, many large bricks-and-mortar retailers and Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) have chance to post the kinds of improvement that have rarely been hit since the start of the recession.

Among the biggest problems large retailers have now is what they can give to shoppers. Companies like Walmart have already offered deals that are likely as good as they could be. Smart consumers get to sit back and wait to see if retailers who have excess inventory will drop prices in mid-December to empty their shelves and warehouses.

Presumably Amazon has an advantage over its old world rivals. It has already said it will offer “amazing deals” every 10 minutes on Cyber Monday. And with traffic of more than 100 million unique visitors a month, if it keeps that pace of “deals,” some customers may bite on what will become thousands and thousands of specials. Most retailers will not be so fortunate, because the traffic to their sites is relatively small.

Walmart has its own advantages — its presence as by far the largest retailer in the United States. It can afford to run a marketing machine that will spend tens of millions of dollars online and in traditional media. It reputation for “everyday low prices” has been built over decades. Walmart’s signature branding cannot be eclipsed by the promotions of any of its smaller competitors, all of which have a fraction of its revenue.

The excitement of holiday retail sales may last one four-day weekend. The boring part of the holiday season has started. But “boring” is only boring to consumers. Walmart, Amazon and their competition have to keep heat on consumers or risk reporting quarterly results that they cannot afford to gift to their investors.