By MICHAEL BARBARO
For retailers, the day after Thanksgiving is a painstakingly orchestrated affair.
Prices are scientifically slashed, down to the penny. Sales begin at dawn. And glossy circulars containing the well-laid plans are distributed just a day or two ahead to keep consumers and competitors in the dark.
Or at least that is how it worked before people like Michael Brim came along. From a cramped dorm room in California, Mr. Brim, an18-year-old college freshman who dines on Lucky Charms and says he rarely shops, is abruptly pulling back the curtain on the biggest shopping day of the year.
His Web site,
So far this year, sources have leaked advertisements to him from Toys "R" Us (showing the Barbie Fashion Show Mall, regularly $99.99, for $29.97); Sears (a Canon ZR100 MiniDV camcorder, regularly $329.99, for $249.99); and Ace Hardware (a Skil 12-volt drill, regularly $44.99, for $24.99).
Mr. Brim says his motive is to educate consumers. But retailers are furious, arguing that the site jeopardizes their holiday business, and they have threatened legal action.
The renegade sites, whose popularity is growing, highlight how much the Web is shifting the balance of power in retailing from companies to consumers. Big national chains used to control discounts carefully, and shoppers were lucky to stumble into a sale at a store or receive an e-mail message promising free shipping. Today, however, online forums encourage strangers to exchange hard-to-find online coupon codes, and they offer instructions on how to combine rebates with one-day sales to cut retail prices in half.
For the discount warriors who run these sites, Black Friday is the best chance to share their techniques, not to mention their zeal, with the masses who pay full price.