Black Friday is losing its luster. This year, Black Thanksgiving is where it’s at.
We shouldn’t be surprised. In a year when radio stations in Buffalo started playing holiday music just hours after the last trick-or-treater knocked on our doors, nervous retailers are pushing the start of their big holiday sales push smack in the middle of Thanksgiving evening.
No longer are stores content to open in the wee hours of the Friday morning, as was the norm as recently as two years ago, or late at night on Thanksgiving, when a handful of national chains last year dared to open at 9 or 10 p.m.
This year, the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy will kick off in many stores, from Macy’s to Bon-Ton and Sears – at 8 p.m., giving shoppers just enough time to polish off their turkey dinners and clear the dishes off the table before heading over to the mall for the first round of doorbusters.
Kmart, which has opened on Thanksgiving for years, once again will unlock its doors at 6 a.m., but instead of closing for a few hours in late afternoon as it did last year, the chain will stay open for 41 straight hours, right through 11 p.m. on Nov. 29. Toys R Us is opening at 5 p.m.
While retail analysts at ShopperTrak still expect Black Friday – the Friday after Thanksgiving – to be the busiest shopping day of the year, the familiar scenes of shivering shoppers lining up outside stores now will be shifted squarely to Thanksgiving. And while shoppers are lining up, store employees will be gobbling down their dessert so they can head off to work on what once was one of the last holidays that truly was a day of rest and family gatherings for most of us.
“Black Friday is losing its retail relevance,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, the managing director at SRG Insight, a retail consulting firm in Connecticut. “It’s just taking the sales from Black Friday weekend – Black Saturday and Sunday – and moving them forward.”
Moving those sales forward is more important than ever this year because Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28, leaving just 26 days between that holiday and Christmas. That’s the shortest prime holiday shopping period in a decade, and a full six days shorter than 2012.
In some ways, Black Friday is turning into Black November. Walmart kicked the month off by selling JVC 42-inch LED televisions for $299 and Xelio 10.1-inch tablets for $49. Best Buy and Amazon.com also have been offering a smattering of Black Friday-like deals since the beginning of the month.
The worry, among retailers, is that the stores that wait to launch their promotions are running the risk that cost-conscious shoppers will have spent a decent amount of their holiday shopping budget by the time Black Friday rolls around. The stores that wait run the risk of being left out. That’s what happened last year at J.C. Penney, which waited to open until Black Friday morning and ended up taking a big hit in its sales.
“Penney’s was left behind,” Flickinger said.
Beyond that, analysts are predicting that shoppers will be making fewer trips to the store this year, with consumers remaining cautious in a struggling economy. ShopperTrak predicts that store visits during November and December will drop by 1.4 percent compared with last year, although overall holiday spending still is expected to rise by 2.4 percent.
And for all the grousing about how terrible it is that stores are opening on Thanksgiving, retailers wouldn’t do it if shoppers didn’t show up. Last year, an estimated 35 million consumers shopped in stores or online on Thanksgiving, according to the National Retail Federation. Put another way, 28 percent of everyone who shopped on Black Friday weekend last year were on their computers or at the stores before midnight on Thanksgiving, up from 24 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2010.
Macy’s, in announcing that it would open its stores on Thanksgiving for the first time, even said the move was “in response to interest from customers who prefer to start their shopping early.”
That seems to be especially true among younger shoppers. The retail federation found that 36 percent of last year’s Thanksgiving shoppers were between the ages of 18 and 34, the highest percentage for any age group.
In fact, Thanksgiving is fast becoming an important shopping day. Consumers last year spent an estimated $633 million online on Thanksgiving Day, according to data from comScore. That was up 32 percent from 2011 and capped a five-year spurt that has seen Thanksgiving spending online jump by 132 percent.
But Thanksgiving still has a long way to go to catch up with Black Friday. An estimated 88 million consumers shopped online or in stores on Black Friday last year, more than double the number who shopped on Thanksgiving, according to the retail federation. Thanksgiving spending online accounts for only about 1.5 percent of all online spending during November and December, with shoppers spending more than twice as much on Internet purchases on Cyber Monday, which follows the Black Friday weekend, according to comScore.
Yet while retailers are scurrying to get shoppers to buy early, Flickinger said the best bargains could go to those who wait, resisting all the Black Friday hype.
“It’s definitely more marketing than bargains,” he said. “The smart shoppers will outsmart the stores by waiting until the last week or week-and-a-half, when the stores get into what we call desperation discounting.”