OKLAHOMA CITY – For the first time in 70 years, Oklahoma residents can legally enjoy Black Friday mega-deals after legislators repealed parts of a law that prohibited retailers from selling items for less than they paid.
Low-price retail events like Black Friday, in which retailers deeply discount items to attract shoppers, were technically illegal because of a 1941 law that required retailers to sell products for at least 6 per cent more than invoice cost.
Often ignored by retailers and rarely enforced, the law led to some anti-trust lawsuits and a 2011 opinion from the state’s attorney general that Black Friday and other low-price sales events are, even if temporary, illegal in Oklahoma.
Sen. David Holt, who pushed for the change this year, acknowledges most Oklahoma shoppers were probably never aware it existed either because retailers didn’t follow it or they still felt they were getting a good deal.
“I didn’t know about the whole controversy until late 2012, when I started to hear about it from Wal-Mart,” said Holt, R-Oklahoma City. “They didn’t like that they had to operate differently here than they did in every other state.”
The law — which predates the Thanksgiving holiday shopping frenzy — was spurred by grocers who’d grown weary of price wars with competitors, often over bread or other products that were advertised to lure in customers.
Stacy Jones, 46, a longtime Black Friday shopper, said she thinks some of the state’s retailers sold items below cost anyway.
“I think some (retailers) are willing to sell items for below cost just to get people in there,” said Jones, of Edmond.
She shops on Black Friday for her company’s annual Christmas party and says she enjoys both good deals and the tradition of shopping with her teenage daughter.
“We’d go out and stand out in the cold at 4 a.m., but we’d end up with a lot of good stuff, and we spent the morning together,” Jones said. “I usually find the best deals on gaming systems, flat-screen TVs, jewelry. Electronics are pretty much the main thing we go after.”
Wal-Mart is taking advantage of the change. A 32-inch LED television that sold for $148 last Black Friday is $98 this year, and the company said it expects to stock 65 per cent more televisions and twice as many electronic tablets this year.
“We are very excited to provide our customers in Oklahoma the same great Black Friday deals that we do in stores around the country,” the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer said in a statement.
Holt said his intent wasn’t just to help out Wal-Mart, which is the state’s largest retailer.
“I don’t care necessarily about Wal-Mart. I care about the free market. I ran on free-market principles, and I care about my consumers paying higher prices simply because the government tells them to,” he said.
Jeff Shelman, a spokesman for electronics giant Best Buy, said the repeal of pricing minimums “is a win for consumers.”
And while Oklahoma shoppers will be able to get below-cost deals on electronics and other general merchandise on Black Friday, the state’s 1941 Unfair Sales Act and its 6 per cent markup still apply to more than a dozen items — including prescription drugs, fuel, groceries, baby supplies, over-the-counter medicines, lumber and other building materials.
“It had lots of twists and turns and had to be heavily compromised,” Holt said of the law. “But rather than drop the idea in the face of opposition, I wanted to compromise so we can at least be sitting here having this conversation.”
Senate Bill 550: http://bit.ly/1dAThpN
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy