1. “Expect pandemonium at the stores.”
Stores are anticipating a huge turnout — read: crowds — this year. According to a survey conducted by management consulting firm Accenture, 53% of consumers say they plan to shop on Black Friday, up from 44% last year. That would reverse three years of declining consumer interest in the day, based on the company’s previous surveys.
The spike comes as retailers have been ramping up their Black Friday marketing efforts and rolling out new strategies to lure consumers, says Jeff Green, an independent retail analyst in Phoenix. To lure consumers, retailers have been rolling out new strategies: Some stores are using social media to give shoppers sneak previews of the deals they’ll offer on Nov. 23. Macy’s, for example, has been posting announcements on Facebook all month about its Black Friday deals: half-carat diamond earrings for less than $200, for example, and 40% off coffee makers and espresso machines. And to make shopping in the store easier, the retailer just enhanced its smartphone app, enabling customers to find Black Friday deals at specific store locations — down to the department and floor.
To pull in more early birds, some retailers are touting free gift cards with purchases. Consumers who spend $50 or more on certain products at Target between 4 a.m. and noon, for instance, will get a $10 store gift card for future purchases. Wal-Mart is also offering $100 store gift cards to customers who buy select smartphones beginning at 5 a.m. (while supplies last, that is).
Of course, these sneak previews of sales and freebies can be a plus for consumers. By knowing Black Friday prices in advance, shoppers can decide whether it’s worth holding off until the big day.
2. “We ruined Thanksgiving.”
Thanks to retailers, Black Friday comes earlier each year. This year, some stores will roll out their Black Friday deals before the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleared. Sears, Toys “R” Us and Wal-Mart deals will kick off at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night in most locations. Most Target stores will open at 9 p.m., while Macy’s and Best Buy will open doors at most locations at midnight. Retail experts say it’s all meant to build up consumer demand for the day.
But here’s the problem for shoppers: Those who want to snatch up the Black Friday doorbusters — super low prices on a limited number of electronics and other items — will have to be among the first in line, which means arriving at the store on Thanksgiving morning or at the latest in the afternoon, says Jon Vincent, spokesman for BlackFriday.com, which tracks Black Friday deals. So much for giving thanks.
Retailers say the earlier openings are all about responding to shoppers’ requests. In its Black Friday announcement, Target said it heard from customers who wanted to start holiday shopping on Thanksgiving night and that the earlier opening gives them “a more convenient way to create an after-dinner shopping event.” In a company announcement, Macy’s said that based on its customers’ response to its first midnight opening last year, it plans to open at that time again this year.
Still, in some states, Thanksgiving remains off limits for retailers. Most retail employees in Massachusetts and Maine, for example, are prohibited from working on Thanksgiving, which means many stores can’t open on that day.
3. “Black Friday came early.”
Lots of retailers started the Black Friday-like come-ons in early November this year. The reason is simple. Consumer spending this holiday season is expected to increase 4.1% over the last holiday season. Still, that’s down from the 5.6% growth retailers saw last year, according to the National Retail Federation. With consumers putting a cap on their budgets, retailers are jockeying to be the first stop shoppers make, says Jason Baker, a partner with X Team International, a retail brokerage alliance.
Best Buy hosted a two-day “Shop Early, Save Big” event on Nov. 2 and Nov. 16 on select consumer electronics. The store says its early bird specials won’t necessarily be the same on Black Friday. In some cases, consumers could find similar deals if they shop a few days before Black Friday. The Gap, for instance, will be offering up to 60% off the store starting on Nov. 20. The retailer says the offer will be available on Black Friday, in addition to other deals.
Consumers might be better off shopping before Thanksgiving, especially if they’re trying to get a TV, computer or other electronics at a discount, says Vincent. While the prices offered on Black Friday could be lower, they’ll avoid the long lines and crowds and the possibility of not finding what they want, he says. Plus, several stores, including Wal-Mart and Best Buy, have a holiday price-match guarantee (eligible dates and items, as well as terms, vary by retailer) that offers a credit or refund to shoppers who find a lower price at another store, even after they make a purchase.
4. “You should have stayed home.”
Jen Dorman, 28, was on the hunt for a cheap slow cooker. She spent hours at the stores on Black Friday two years ago looking for a doorbuster discount. By the time she got to the stores, the model she wanted was nowhere to be found. “I felt like I’d gone through an obstacle course and I was wasting all this time,” Dorman says. Tired and annoyed, she says, she returned home and searched for the appliance online and found it. What’s more, it was selling at a lower price than the brick and mortar stores were advertising. Oh, and, she got free shipping too.
As retailers compete for more sales, they’re putting their Black Friday deals online as well, says Baker. Toys “R” Us shoppers will be able to get the same deals online as in its stores, says company spokeswoman Jennifer Albano. Macy’s will also offer many of the same in-store deals on its site.
That means consumers can avoid the long lines altogether by staying home and shopping online. And in some cases, they can get those deals early. Retailers including Kohl’s and Sears will offer some of their Black Friday deals on their websites days before the big event. Target will also offer early online access to some deals on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday is no longer reserved just for in-store purchases, says Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. But just because they’re on their computer, consumers shouldn’t think they’ll avoid the hype. Expect to receive text messages via your smartphone touting free shipping, discounts and coupons.
5. “Prepare for violence.”
Dan Nainan says he remembers his breaking point. He had been waiting outside a Best Buy for three hours — before the store opened — to buy a flat-screen TV that was on sale for 50% off. His chances at scoring one were decent, he figured, because he was around the 20th person in line. But as the doors opened, a crowd ran to the doors, cutting the line. Angered, the shoppers behind him started pushing forward. “It was a mob scene,” he says. “There was all this pushing and shoving; I thought someone was going to get trampled.” Erin Bix, a spokeswoman for Best Buy, says that the safety of its customers and employees is its biggest priority.
Fortunately, no one was injured, says Nainan. But Black Friday scenes like this have been occurring during the past few years with deadly consequences. In 2008, roughly 2,000 shoppers stormed a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., trampling an employee to death. Since then, the company has implemented crowd-management techniques, says a Wal-Mart spokesman.
Separately, in 2010, a shopper was arrested outside a Madison, Wis., Toys “R” Us after she allegedly threatened to shoot shoppers who objected to her cutting the line. The shopper didn’t really have a gun, says Toys “R” Us spokeswoman Jennifer Albano, but police on the scene arrested the person. “We continually look for ways to raise the bar on safety,” Albano adds. At Best Buy, employees give shoppers who are waiting in line tickets for the doorbuster item they want as much as two hours before the midnight opening, to help maintain order.