November 22, 2012

Modern retailing doesn't take a holiday

Stores that once waited until the wee hours of the day after Thanksgiving now open their doors on Thanksgiving evening.

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - For most of America, Black Friday came early this year.

click image to enlarge

Shoppers roll a television out of a Big K-Mart in Myrtle, S.C., on Thanksgiving Day.

The Associated Press

Stores traditionally open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving named for the period when stores traditionally turn a profit for the year.

But Black Friday openings have crept earlier and earlier over the past few years. Now, stores from Walmart to Toys R Us open their doors on Thanksgiving evening, hoping Americans are willing to shop soon after they finish their pumpkin pie.

Walmart Stores Inc. had early bird shopping specials at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than a year ago. Target Corp. opened its doors at 9 p.m. on the holiday, three hours earlier than last year. Sears, which didn't open on Thanksgiving last year, opened at 8 p.m. and will stay open until 10 p.m. on Black Friday. And Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year.

It's an effort by stores to make shopping more convenient for Americans, who still face economic uncertainty. Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites such as Amazon.com, where they can get cheaper prices and buy from the comfort of their home or office cubicle.

Early data from IBM Smarter Commerce show that as of noon EST, online sales for Thanksgiving were up 14.3 percent from last year, with just over a quarter of consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer's site, up from 15.8 percent in 2011.

That has put pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, who can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the two-month holiday shopping season, to compete. That's becoming more difficult: The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion, or about flat with last year's growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.

As a result, brick-and-mortar retailers are trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores by making shopping as easy as possible. In addition to expanding their hours into Thanksgiving, many are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.

"Every retailer wants to beat everyone else," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a research firm based in Charleston, S.C. "Shoppers love it."

Retailers are hoping that the Thanksgiving openings will draw shoppers who prefer to head to stores after their turkey dinner rather than braving the crowds early the next morning. Overall, about 17 percent of shoppers plan to take advantage of Thanksgiving hours, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers conducted from Nov. 15 to Nov. 18. Last year, that figure was 16 percent. For Black Friday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, 33 percent intend to shop that day, slightly down from 34 percent in 2011.

For 11 people in a four-tent encampment outside a Best Buy store near Ann Arbor, Mich., a super deal on a 40-inch Toshiba LCD television is worth missing Thanksgiving dinner at home.

Jackie Berg, 26, of Ann Arbor, arrived first with her stepson and a friend Wednesday afternoon, seeking three of the televisions. On Black Friday, Best Buy is selling them for $179, $240 less than the normal price, so Berg would save more than $700.

(Continued on page 2)

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