Business & Real Estate

There’s a new ‘Black Friday’ and it’s earlier, much earlier

Shoppers crowd the aisles as they wait to get inside the Game Stop at Arden Fair shopping mall in Sacramento on Nov.29, 2013. Some retailers will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and starting Black Friday sales earlier in the holiday shopping season.
Shoppers crowd the aisles as they wait to get inside the Game Stop at Arden Fair shopping mall in Sacramento on Nov.29, 2013. Some retailers will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and starting Black Friday sales earlier in the holiday shopping season. Sacramento Bee file

On Halloween at Westfield Galleria at Roseville shopping mall, Mary Jane Francis was not thinking of tricks and treats.

She was focused on Christmas.

“I love doing my Christmas shopping early … before everyone else,” said Francis, 46, of Sacramento. “I like to avoid the big crowds, the stores are stocked with (merchandise) and there are lots of great deals … I just like being ahead of the crowd.”

She’s not alone.

On Sept. 29, Austin, Texas-based CreditCards.com reported results from a survey found that about 34 million U.S. adults had already begun their holiday shopping, including approximately 1 million who were completely finished.

“Most Americans are annoyed by these overachievers,” said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst. “The majority thinks stores should begin putting up their holiday displays and advertising holiday sales around Thanksgiving.”

That general push-back against early holiday shopping has prompted some retailers – including Home Depot, Costco, Sam’s Club, Neiman Marcus, Barnes & Noble and Hobby Lobby – to announce that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, the day before the traditional “Black Friday” holiday shopping season kickoff.

But retail analysts insist that will do little to stem the tide of early Christmas shopping, which has begun in earnest from coast to coast, according to retail watchers.

Retailers already have launched pre-Black Friday specials. Last week, Home Depot was promoting “Black Friday Savings” of up to 40 percent off on major appliances. Online, Sears was touting “Black Friday Now” deals with prices slashed on everything from earrings to slow cookers to French door refrigerators.

Amazon.com is likewise cashing in on the early holiday shopping rush, launching its “Black Friday Deals Store” just hours after Halloween ended. It offers consumers “new deals every five minutes from now until Dec. 22.” Amazon also said customers can set up “Watch-a-Deal” alerts to keep track of discounts on particular items.

Accompanying last Tuesday’s Deals Store kickoff, Amazon cited a study showing that 64 percent of U.S consumers will start holiday shopping before Black Friday (Nov. 25), with nearly 30 percent completing their shopping before that day.

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched its “Holiday Helpers” program Friday. Candy cane-carrying employees help Walmart shoppers point customers to the shortest checkout lines and will grab items for customers who might have forgotten something in their rush to the cash register.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation said it believes the shopping blitz will hit an even higher gear after Tuesday’s Election Day.

“Everywhere you turn, whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television, political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Once the election has passed, we anticipate consumers will pull themselves out of the election doldrums and into the holiday spirit.”

Roseville resident Wanda Smith-Hayes, 35, said she had been in the holiday spirit since late summer, and she was closing in on completing her 2016 Christmas shopping.

“For me, shopping early works better. It’s less stressful,” said Smith-Hayes, as she shopped at the Fountains at Roseville shopping complex. “We do a lot of entertaining during the holidays, and I like to take the time to decorate and wrap everything nicely. … If I’m stressing out doing last-minute shopping with the crowds, we can’t do any of that, and that takes away from the fun of the Christmas season.”

For Carmichael resident Betty Perez, browsing for clothes and Christmas cards at Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, shopping early means “the stores have what I want on the shelves. … If I wait until the last minute, they might be sold out, and … even if they have what I want, I’m going to have to wait in a long line to check out. … I hate that.”

For the most part, the Sacramento area’s major shopping malls held back on Christmas decorations until the conclusion of Halloween.

At Sacramento’s Arden Fair mall, the Macy’s store was done up in red ornaments and Christmas presents. Like its sister stores at Westfield Galleria at Roseville and Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, the Bath & Body Works storefront in Arden Fair was elaborately done up in holiday decorations, with deals touting “The Perfect Christmas.”

Local malls will be beefing up Christmas decorations this week in advance of Friday’s Veterans Day, which New York-based marketing and branding expert Peter Schaub calls “the new Black Friday. … Veterans Day has been a bonanza for retailers for more than a decade. Lots of people who are not working that day tend to go shopping.”

Jamie Donley, senior marketing manager for Arden Fair, said last week that “we do have an increase in traffic that day. We’re very busy.” Donley noted that Santa Claus will begin his prolonged Arden Fair run this Friday as well.

Home-improvement stores such as Lowe’s at Greenback Lane and Sunrise Boulevard in Citrus Heights have been all-in on Christmas decorations for weeks. At the Citrus Heights Lowe’s, there were plentiful prelit artificial trees, blow-up yard decorations and all manner of indoor decorations to be had on Halloween.

Citrus Heights shopper Bill Wallace was stocking up on Christmas lights and outdoor decorations now, “because by Thanksgiving weekend, most of this could be bought up. … I speak from experience.”

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

2016 holiday shopping by the numbers

The overview: The National Retail Federation expects U.S. retail sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) to increase 3.6 percent year-over-year to $655.8 billion. Online sales are forecast to increase between 7 and 10 percent to as much as $117 billion. Retailers are expected to hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers.

The splurge: U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season, including gifts for others, self-spending, food, flowers, decorations and greeting cards for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. The record spending average of $952.58 was set in 2015.

The breakdown: 58 percent of consumers plan to buy for themselves, spending an average of $139.61, up 4 percent from last year’s $133.74; consumers say they will spend $588.90 on gifts for others and $207.07 for items such as food, decorations, flowers and greeting cards this year.

Where to shop?: Consumers will share the wealth, with 57 percent planning to hit department stores, 57 percent shopping online and 56 percent spending at discount stores. About 45 percent plan to visit a grocery store/supermarket, 34 percent will shop at clothing stores, 27 percent at electronics stores and 23 percent at small or local businesses. Ten percent of those shopping plan to visit outlet stores.

Here’s my card: Gift cards remain among the most popular gifts, sought by 61 percent of those surveyed, followed by clothing and accessories (54 percent).

Source: National Retail Federation, based on a survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics

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