10 Things Stores Won’t Say About Black Friday
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.
6. “Won’t give us your email address? Say goodbye to some deals.”
In an attempt to get consumers to dust off their rewards cards this Black Friday, retailers will be offering some deals that are exclusive to those card holders. Best Buy says it will offer its Reward Zone Silver cardholders — customers who spend at least $2,500 a year at the retailer — early access online to its Black Friday doorbusters. “They will have the opportunity to purchase doorbusters before anyone else,” says Bix. Separately, Sears “Shop Your Way” rewards members (who can sign up for free) will be able to access many Black Friday deals on the store’s site on Nov. 18. And for the first time, Target REDcard debit or credit card holders will receive exclusive access to 20 deals on its site on Nov. 21, including discounts on children’s toys and kitchen appliances.
Retailers say they want to reward their loyal customers. But experts say stores want to use Black Friday to incentivize more shoppers to sign up for these cards. The cards help retailers to expand their marketing base and to collect data on their customers, including what items they tend to buy, says Green. But they’re also offering these deals because they’re expecting their card members to spend more at their store on Black Friday than other consumers will.
7. “Don’t expect good quality.”
A flat-screen TV marked down to $300 isn’t necessarily a great deal. Stores aren’t likely to offer big discounts on the latest, top quality in-demand electronics on Black Friday, says Green. Retailers know they can still sell the most coveted models for higher prices. The same holds true for laptops: While their prices are enticing, $200 to $300 laptops are usually not the best products, says Vincent: They’re intended primarily for Web surfing, as opposed to for gaming or watching movies. And they tend to last roughly three to four years, he says.
But quality isn’t always an issue on Black Friday, says the NRF’s Grannis. Cashmere sweaters and other high priced clothing items are often marked down significantly on Black Friday, she says. Prices on home appliances are also slashed that day. This Black Friday, some examples include a Samsung front-loading washer and electric dryer, each selling for 33% off at Best Buy, and a Kenmore Elite top-loading washer and electric dryer at 50% off at Sears, says BlackFriday.com’s Vincent.
8. “We market to women (but not the best deals).”
Growing up in Houston, Stacy Pursell says, she remembers going to the stores with her mother at the crack of dawn every Black Friday. They’d spend most of the day shopping and would come home with heaps of bags. Pursell, now 40, says she continues the tradition on her own. She tried to persuade her husband to come along but he’s just not interested.
That’s probably a pretty typical scenario, retail experts say. Women spend four times more on holiday shopping than men, according to a 2011 study by online marketplace Alibaba.com. As a result, retailers direct much of their Black Friday marketing toward women, says Green. However, the products that are marketed directly to women, such as clothing, handbags and jewelry are less in danger of running out. Rather than rushing in on Black Friday for such items, consumers might want to hold off until the last few days of the holiday shopping season, when retailers typically slash prices on whatever’s left as they try to unload remaining inventory. Some products sell for 10% to 15% less than they do on Black Friday, says Jim Bieri, principal at Stokas Bieri, a retail consulting firm in Detroit.
For other products, if you can wait until after the holidays entirely, so much the better. Cookware and home accessory prices tend to drop at the end of December, he says, and bed linens and towels go on sale during January.
9. “Don’t be fooled by credit card discounts offers.”
This holiday season, nearly 29% of consumers plan to use a credit card for most of their holiday gift purchases — the highest proportion since 2007, according to the NRF. A good number of those purchases may be made with store credit cards, as this is the time of year stores push their own cards hard. Throughout the year, consumers who sign up for a retailer’s store credit card typically get 10% off on the first purchase made using that card. But during the end of the year — typically the last five weeks or so, often starting with Black Friday — they’ll bump up that discount for opening a new card to 20%, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, a credit-monitoring site. “They get very aggressive because they realize many of us will spend more on retail purchases than we did so far this year,” he says.
Store credit cards, however, are among the worst debts consumers can carry charging interest rates that are almost always 20% or higher, says Ulzheimer. In contrast, the average interest rate on credit cards in general is about 12%, according to the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, store cards have low credit limits, usually below $1,000. When consumers use these credit cards, the balance they carry is likely to make up a large percentage of their credit line, which can lower their credit score.
10. “We’ll try to keep you in the store all day.”
It used to be that shoppers who arrived at stores when they opened on Black Friday would get first dibs on the best deals on electronics, appliances and other in-demand items. That’s no longer guaranteed. A growing number of retailers are introducing a wave of doorbusters that occur every few hours on the big day — and leading up to it. Wal-Mart will kick off its specials on toys, gaming, home and apparel at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, followed by specials on brand name electronics at 10 p.m., and another series of discounts at 5 a.m. on items including TVs, jewelry and tires. And despite opening at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Target will have doorbusters on some electronics, toys and tech gadgets at 4 a.m. the next day.
For shoppers, getting the best deals will come down to strategizing, says Bieri. They should consider keeping a list of the items they’re looking for and checking the circulars to see what stores are discounting them and at what time.
Retailers say they want to make their stores the go-to destination for Black Friday, and they’d like shoppers to continue coming to the store throughout the day. Stores tend to staff up for Black Friday, paying more employees to man the registers and keep the floors stocked, says Green. But in previous years, many employees have been idle after the early morning rush when traffic would slow down, he says. By rolling out a series of doorbusters, they’re hoping to prevent this scenario.