Black Friday just got earlier
Shoppers who circle Black Friday on their calendars as the day to start this year's round of gift-buying actually may be getting a late start.
Department and discount stores and most other major chains and online retailers are running sales and extending hours almost like it's the day after Thanksgiving.
The offers "absolutely are getting earlier," said Paige Beal, a Point Park University marketing professor. "Eighty percent of retailers, right after Halloween, started rolling out their deals for the holiday period."
Macy's stores open at 7 a.m. today for the department store chain's "biggest one-day sale of the year." Kohl's opens at 8 with 50-percent-off specials. And J.C. Penney will start selling doorbusters at 9.
"Black Friday is the traditional kickoff for the holiday shopping season, but this year Target started its 'Black Friday Now' campaign and Wal-Mart followed," Duquesne University marketing professor Audrey Guskey said Tuesday.
Electronics retailer Best Buy began its promotions at the start of this month, 10 days earlier than years past. Sears started its Black Friday sales a week ago.
The early push to get shoppers into stores makes sense, given the past two dismal holiday seasons, Guskey said. Spending fell by 3.9 percent in 2008 and gained just 0.4 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
The trade organization expects a 2.3 percent increase this season to $447.1 billion in sales for the holiday season.
As she left Macy's Downtown store yesterday, Stephanie Wilson said this is the first time she's started holiday shopping this early. "With the economy the way it is, people are definitely going to try to get out on Black Friday," she said, so her strategy is to get to stores "before the pick-through, before everything is gone."
Deals are out there, and "there's no reason to wait for Black Friday," Beal said.
Guskey said the traditional kickoff shopping day has some great bargains "but you have to be one of those people who's there at 2 in the morning, to get one of only five or 10" of those certain items in stock.
Success often depends on research. Consumers pore over "leaked" holiday store ads at websites such as GottaDeal.com, BlackFriday2010.com and BlackFriday.info. And, Guskey added, with smartphones, they're using retailers' "apps," or applications, to check the price at the store down the street.
Inventories will continue to be lean this season, experts said.
During the recession, retailers learned to manage their stockrooms better, tracking sales at individual stores and replenishing items as needed, rather than ending up with piles of markdowns in the days before Christmas.
Retailers "plan for Black Friday to be less of a dump for inventory and more like a systemic plan to increase holiday sales," Beal said.
"So retailers know how much they are going to have on hand, and they have to get the consumers' attention right out of the box."
Sears stores and some Wal-Mart, Old Navy, Kmart and Gap locations will be open on Thanksgiving Day. Toys 'R Us will open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and said it will reveal its Black Friday deals today. Some retailers such as Kohl's and Target are boosting their online deals that day.
Macy's stores will open at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz said. That's an hour earlier than last year. While she wouldn't discuss specific promotions, Macy's "keeps a pretty aggressive promotional calendar."
Holiday season 2009 included up to a dozen major retailers who held early shopping season kickoff sales, said Barry Boone, CEO of CurrentCodes.com of Tulsa, a website that tracks discount and coupon codes for consumers to use while shopping online.
"But it has really caught on," he said. For some, "Every Friday and Monday is Black Friday and Cyber Monday," he said, referring to the Monday after Thanksgiving, a top online shopping day.
"Black November -- Shop On" proclaims online electronics seller Newegg.com's home page.
Many retailers had solid back-to-school sales in September and October, but shoppers delayed purchases until late in the season.
Now, "They are sensing that things are picking up" and working to jump-start the season, Boone said. He advises consumers to research items online to find the best prices, and maybe coupons, and to check to see if the same finds that will go on sale in stores in the wee hours of Nov. 26 will be available online.
Some are unfazed by the sale hype. Anthony Oxendine of McKees Rocks saves money throughout the year and says that, while he browses on occasion, "I usually wait till Black Friday to go and look in the stores" and buy gifts.