An Emergency Services Disaster Agency car patrolled the parking lot of Kohls as Black Friday shoppers gathered to take part in the busiest annual shopping day this morning in Peru. Kohls opened at midnight, earlier than some competitors, but four to five hours later than many other retailers in the Illinois Valley, including Tractor Supply, Wal-Mart, Sears and Target.
NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
|Earlier openings an effort to retain customers, compete|
By Anne D’Innocenzo
AP Retail Writer
Black Friday got off to its earliest start ever as the nation’s shoppers put down their turkey and headed straight to the malls.
About 11,000 shoppers were in lines wrapped around Macy’s flagship store in New York City’s Herald Square when it opened.
Retailers are hoping that the earlier openings will help boost sales this holiday season. It is unclear how many shoppers took advantage of the earlier openings. But about 17 percent of shoppers said earlier this month that they planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers. Overall, it’s estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to $11.4 billion this year.
The earlier hours are an effort by stores to make shopping as convenient as possible for Americans, who they fear won’t spend freely during the two-month holiday season in November and December because of 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 that offer cheap prices and the convenience of being able to buy something from smartphones, laptops and tablet computers from just about anywhere.
That’s put added pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season, to give consumers a compelling reason to leave their homes. 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 have been trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores. Some stores tested the earlier hours last year, but this year more retailers opened their doors late on Thanksgiving or earlier on Black Friday. In addition to expanding their hours, many also 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.”
Indeed, some holiday shoppers seemed to find stores’ earlier hours appealing. “I ate my turkey dinner and came right here,” said Rasheed Ali, a 23-year-old student in New York City who bought a 50-inch Westinghouse TV for $349 and a Singer sewing machine for $50 at a Target in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood that opened at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. “Then I’m going home and eating more.”
…While some hoppers appreciated the early start to the holiday shopping season, some workers were expected to protest the expanded hours. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has been one of the biggest targets of protests against holiday hours. Many of Wal-Mart’s stores are open 24 hours, but the company offered early bird specials that once were reserved for Black Friday at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving instead.
The issue is part of a broader campaign against the company’s treatment of workers that’s being waged by a union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers. The group is staging demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday.
Mary Pat Tifft, a Wal-Mart employee in Kenosha, Wis., who is a member of OUR Walmart, started an online petition on signon.org that has about 34,000 signatures. “This Thanksgiving, while millions of families plan to spend quality time with their loved ones, Wal-Mart associates have been told we will be stocking shelves and preparing sales starting at 8 p.m.,” she wrote on the site.
OUR Walmart said workers walked off their jobs in stores in Dallas, Miami and Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday. But a spokeswoman for the group did not immediately give numbers on how many workers participated.
For their part, retailers say they are giving shoppers what they want. Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the discounter learned from shoppers that they want to start shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner. Then, they want to have time to go to bed before they wake up to head back out to the stores.
Still, Tovar said that Wal-Mart works to accommodate its workers’ requests for different working hours. “We spent a lot of time talking to them, trying to figure out when would be the best time for our events,” he said.
D’Innocenzio reported from New York City. Krisher reported from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio.
Pretty soon they’ll start calling it Black Thursday instead of Thanksgiving.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Illinois Valley residents wolfed down their holiday turkey and then headed for Peru’s retail corridor along Route 251 in search of late-night deals — specifically for discounted electronic items including TVs, video games and tablets.
Tony Magallanes of Mendota was among the lucky few to score a $97 flat-screen TV from Sears, which broke with a tradition of opening early Friday to reel in customers who’d have otherwise stayed home Thanksgiving night for leftover turkey sandwiches and football.
“I got here at 3:45 p.m.,” Magallanes said, hoisting the boxed TV he cupped with a voucher handed out to the first 50 waiting to get in the door. “I was in the first 10 in line. My feet kind of hurt, but that’s it.”
Bob Morrison, store manager at Sears, said he reported for work at 6 p.m. Thursday ahead of a scheduled 8 p.m. opening to find more than 200 customers stretched from the front doors facing Route 251 to the auto center bay doors. The principal attraction was the $97 TV that Magallanes coveted.
“This is the first time we’re opening at 8 o’clock at night,” Morrison said. “The company decided we wanted to try it out, so we did and as you can see it’s been very successful.”
It certainly has. Morrison and an assistant threw open the doors and within minutes the crowd filed in, most of them descending on the home electronics section,
Buffy Hoskins of Utica Township missed out on the cheap TV set but went to Sears and at least had her curiosity satisfied.
“We just kind of wanted to see what it was going to be like,” Hoskins said, “and it was your typical Black Friday crowd.”
Tim Iwanicki of Perusaid he is a Black Friday regular who didn’t pass on the chance to scope out the sales early instead of fumbling for the snooze bar in the wee hours.
“It was either sit home or come out, and you can sit home any night so we went out to try to save money on Christmas gifts,” he said. “I want to see who’s foolish enough to get up for 4 or 5 in the morning to go out and shop, and I’m always there with them, so I guess I incriminate myself with that comment. It’s always fun to see who’s out and about.”
Some of the stores appeared to be following the lead of Wal-Mart — closed only on Christmas — which has long enjoyed Thanksgiving Day sales and long lines at the counter.
This Thanksgiving proved no exception.
Mitch Lippert, store manager, said it was “completely dead” until 6 p.m. Thursday, when customers began pouring into the parking lot — completely filled by 7:30 p.m. — and then into the store for what figured to be a long night for Lippert and his workers.
“It’s basically a lot of TVs, laptops and people are in line for xBox games and DVD movies,” Lippert said. “There are people lined up for everything.
“It’s super-busy. People are out earlier this year so they don’t have to go to bed and get up.”
Ronda Harris of Ladd was among those who decided not to rouse herself before daybreak in search of a deal.
Harris was a little taken aback by the crowd at Wal-Mart. Searching for video games, she was directed to a long, slow-moving line of patrons waiting to get to the new xBox releases.
“This is my first Black Friday,” Harris said, and then readily acknowledged it wasn’t quite Friday. “It’s a little overwhelming. I knew there’d be a lot of people, but I had no idea it would be this busy.”
Bryon Stone ofPeruseemed more braced for the wait. He patiently stood in line 40 minutes for an xBox 50 game — “Assassins Creed III” or “Madden 13” — and shrugged off the possibility the games would be gone when he finally made it to the end of the line.
“We’ll find out when I get up front,” Stone said patiently. “It’s not too bad. I finished dinner at 5:30, dropped (off) my daughter and came over.”
Justin Giordano ofPeruwas more put off by the crowds he saw when he got to Target.
Though the doors at Target were opened promptly at 9 p.m. on the promise of deeply discounted computer tablets, by 9:15 the line still stretched all the way around the department store’s east and north sides.
“We went to Wal-Mart first but that got crowded really quick so we came here,” Giordano said, “and it’s all the way around the freaking building.
He said he’d shop for presents once he could get in the door and “if there’s anything left over.” Glancing at the stubborn line, he added, “probably not now.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.