Black Friday continues its cultural, economic importance
If November and December are the Super Bowl of retail sales, then Black Friday is the halftime show.
Although diminished in importance because of online shopping trends, Black Friday continues to be a pivotal time for traditional retailers looking to close the year in the black, experts say.
The National Retail Federation is projecting that 164 million Americans will shop on Thanksgiving weekend and 116 million will shop on Black Friday.
“Consumers are shopping five days straight (Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday) … to get everything they need. Black Friday is still the No. 1 shopping day within those five days,” said Ana Smith, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
The NRF predicts that retail sales in November and December could total between $717.5 billion and $720.9 billion — a jump of 4.3 to 4.8 percent over 2017.
The biggest shopping “day” of the season is the weekend before Christmas, but Black Friday is a close second, Smith said.
Not what it was
There is some truth to the belief that Black Friday is not what it used to be, she said, but its importance for traditional retailers remains.
“It’s just changed a little over the years. What’s made it different is absolutely technology and the way consumers shop,” she said. “They’re concerned about what’s most convenient for them. They want to shop when it’s easy for them, which means shopping online or going when they want to.”
As a result, traditional retailers are adapting and changing their business strategies to align more with the convenience of online retailers, she said.
Individual consumers are expected to spend an average of $1,007.24 this holiday season — up 4.1 percent from the $967.13 they said they would spend last year, according to an NRF survey.
“Confidence is near an all-time high, unemployment is the lowest we’ve seen in decades and take-home wages are up. All of that is reflected in consumers’ buying plans,” said Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO.
Trying to preserve the uniqueness of the Black Friday shopping experience is one reason CBL Properties, owner of the Westmoreland Mall and the Monroeville Mall, decided for the third consecutive year to close on Thanksgiving Day, spokeswoman Stacey Keating said.
The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company wants to avoid “Christmas creep” and generate excitement about Black Friday, she said.
Shoppers still enjoy getting up early on Black Friday and going shopping with friends or family members, Keating said, noting that people often are strategic about which stores they visit.
“It’s very ingrained in our culture,” she said. “I think it is still an incredibly important shopping day, despite deals being available earlier and earlier. It’s still one of the highest-volume days in terms of sales.”
Good season predicted
Keating said CBL Properties is optimistic about the 2018 Christmas shopping season.
“Monroeville and Westmoreland have both seen sales trends throughout the year that are flat or increasing,” she said. “Retail sales have been trending up in 2018. … Retail hiring has been up this holiday season, as well. Everything we look at as indicators points to a strong holiday season.”
Notwithstanding the decision by some to close on Thanksgiving, that is the day for some of the best deals because of “early bird” specials, said Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America’s Research Group.
“The consumer looks at Thursday afternoon as part of Black Friday. It’s all one thing for the consumer,” he said, noting that the public pushback against Thanksgiving shopping was short-lived.
The group, based in Summerville, S.C., has tracked holiday sales trends for 30 years but did not put out a report this year. Nevertheless, Beemer said traditional retail sales will be up 4 to 6 percent from 2017, and online sales will be up 12 to 18 percent.
“The online guys will do better,” he said. “My worry is traffic in malls will continue to plummet. I would not want to be a mall retailer this season.”
Although online shopping is growing at a faster rate than brick-and-mortar retail, it is only about 25 percent of total retail sales, Beemer said.
Of those planning to shop during the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, 21 percent (34 million) plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day and 71 percent (116 million) plan to shop on Black Friday, according to the latest NRF survey.
Forty-one percent (67 million) are expected to shop on Small Business Saturday, and 20 percent (32 million) are expected to shop on Sunday, the survey said. The shopping weekend will wrap up on Cyber Monday, when 46 percent (75 million) are expected to take advantage of online bargains.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @shuba_trib.