Business & Real Estate

Black Friday loses luster to upstart Thanksgiving Thursday

Black Friday is now Black Thanksgiving.

Retail’s holiest shopping holiday has been transformed into a two-day shopping binge that begins even before the turkey gets on the dinner table.

Throngs lined up at Sacramento-area malls and retailers Thursday evening in anticipation of doorbuster deals on such items as ultra high-definition TVs and flying drones. However, the pace and turnout were less frenetic compared with recent Black Fridays, when people mobbed cash registers and camped out days before.

“Thursday is becoming the new Friday,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group, a New York-based retail research firm.

Retailers in recent years had pushed for earlier openings in hopes of ringing up more sales. But the result, Cohen said, is that consumers are buying at different times, beginning as early as Nov. 1.

“I don’t have more relatives because they’re open 24 hours. I don’t have more money in my pocket because they have more sales,” he said. “More hours doesn’t translate to more sales.”

Arden Fair scaled back its hours significantly this year, after staying open around the clock. The mall closed at midnight Thursday and reopened at 6 a.m. Friday. Meanwhile, Westfield Galleria in Roseville remained open overnight, but foot traffic was slow during the early morning hours.

A variety of factors are likely behind the smaller crowds. Consumers are learning that they can snatch the same deals online from the comfort of home. The push for Thanksgiving Day openings has also turned off some shoppers who would rather spend the holiday at home with family.

Mark Higgins waited until Black Friday to venture out to the malls, describing Thanksgiving as “off-limits,” even though the “temptation to shop was great.”

“It’s unfortunate that Black Friday is seeping into Thanksgiving,” said Higgins, who was waiting for his teenage daughter outside the Forever 21 store at Arden Fair.

Denny Pulido, assistant manager for Journeys at Arden, said the confusion in hours might have put off customers since retailers were free to determine what time to open. Arden officials gave individual stores leeway on their hours due to the changing landscape of the retail industry, according to Jamie Donley, the mall’s senior marketing manager.

A similar situation played out at big-box chains in the Sacramento region, with crowds spreading out after the initial rush when doors opened Thursday evening.

“Even Walmart wasn’t that crazy,” said Michelle King, 46, of Carmichael, who visited the Citrus Heights store just before midnight Thursday.

She added that much of her shopping is shifting online, noting that gifts for her 20-year-old son can only be purchased on Amazon.

Cohen noted that retailers would likely make roughly the same sales over the weekend compared with years past. But the key difference is who would be taking the profits – online or physical stores. Adobe Digital Insights, which tracks internet transactions, reported that retailers had made $1.93 billion in online sales Thursday, representing an 11.5 percent increase over last year. Adobe estimated Friday’s online sales at $3.05 billion, an 11.3 percent rise.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $935.58 during the season, according to the National Retail Federation. The number this year is second only to the record total spending of 2015, at $952.58.

Jeffrey Michael, an economist at the University of the Pacific, predicted that some might use shopping as therapy for a rough election.

“People are exhausted. They could use a break,” Michael said.

Traditional department stores like Macy’s are “feeling the pain and pinch,” Cohen said. While traffic figures won’t be available until Sunday, preliminary data don’t bode well for brick-and-mortar shops.

Last year at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, the Macy’s store on New York’s Long Island had 70 people waiting in line at the location’s busiest cash register, according to Cohen. On Friday morning, there were seven people.

“It doesn’t mean that business is terrible. It just means it is transformed,” he said, adding that physical stores are trying to fight off purely online competitors.

Still, plenty of shoppers turned out in person on Black Friday, including Annie Thomas of Wheatland, who was second in line at the Best Buy store on Arden Way.

“I’ve been doing it every year since I was a kid, back when Mom would wake you up at 2 a.m.,” Thomas said.

Thomas, a self-described hardcore Black Friday shopper, staked out the Best Buy over the last week to check whether a line was forming, so she could guarantee her purchase of a 55-inch Sharp high-definition television for $249. Five years ago, she camped out for days to purchase a doorbuster TV. But times have changed, with online deals in some cases surpassing the discounts of brick-and-mortar stores.

But for Thomas, navigating long lines in big-box chains is an experience that she enjoys.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie. I get my energy off other people,” Thomas said, adding that she met her best friend five years ago in a Best Buy line.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang

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