Joan Verdon/The Record—Retailers like to refer to this weekend as the Super Bowl of shopping. This year, however, it will be a whole new ballgame.
A number of the leading players are adding extra shopping time with stores opening on Thanksgiving and round-the-clock operations into Friday night. At Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, where most of the stores will open at midnight, and a “midnight madness” shopping event with a DJ and prizes is planned, the busiest time of the weekend is expected to be 1 a.m. Friday, instead of 1 p.m., as in years past.
Retailers also will be playing with a new set of rules, and inviting consumers to comparison-shop on mobile phones and to demand price-matching at the checkout counter, or to use special phone apps to get on-the-spot discounts and deals.
Retailers have to be on top of their game this year. They have a short selling season, with the fewest possible number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 26. Competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com increases every year as online shopping continues to grow dramatically.
And they’ll need to work harder to reach shoppers. The Conference Board reported Tuesday that U.S. consumer confidence declined to a seven-month low of 70.4 percent, from 72.4 percent in October.
“The problem is Black Friday is so late, so there are fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and one less weekend,” said Jeff Green, president and chief executive of Phoenix-based consulting firm Jeff Green Partners, who is anticipating a challenging holiday season.
“That combined with the fact that Hanukkah begins Wednesday night means that those who are Jewish have already completed their holiday shopping,” Green said. “Then you’ve got the fact that retailers were very disappointed with back-to-school sales and Halloween sales, so they got started on their Christmas sales especially early this year,” he said.
Retail store managers, however, are preparing for the weekend with the enthusiasm of high school coaches prepping their teams for the big game.
At the Target store in Paramus on Tuesday, District Team Leader Kevin Bryant was there at 8 a.m. to give employees a Black Friday pep talk and discuss the store’s strategy for displaying the door-buster specials.
“Less than two days to Black Friday,” Bryant said during the morning meeting, or “huddle” of employees, triggering a round of cheers from the workers.
At the Paramus store, workers were rushing around Tuesday to prepare for a traditional Black Friday opening, at 7 a.m. Most Target stores around the country will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving and stay open into Friday. But because Paramus ordinances prevent stores from staying open past 11 p.m. or opening before 7 a.m., the Paramus store, like most retailers in the borough, opted to wait until Friday morning to open.
Don Dent, manager of the Target in Paramus, said he expects shoppers to be lining up before the 7 a.m. opening. Last year, store employees wondered if Thanksgiving night openings would reduce the Black Friday crowds in Paramus, but the store had a line around the building at opening time.
Bryant and Dent said Paramus stores, with the later opening, sometimes benefit by being the “second-chance” stop for people who either didn’t want to shop at night, or who found items sold out at stores that opened on Thanksgiving.
Bryant outlined Target’s plans for displaying the door-buster specials. In preparation for Friday, store employees will push back racks of clothing at the front of the store and create staging areas for what are expected to be the top sellers, including stacks of 50-inch television sets for $229 and $99 Nikon cameras.
“That’s the No. 1 draw as people come in, so not only will we have all our TVs there but we will have all the accessories so they can grab everything they need,” Bryant said.
Mapping out strategy
The Target managers said part of their Black Friday plans include showing shoppers how they can use their smartphones to download Target’s Cartwheel app, which gives them additional discounts they can claim at the cash register.
Dent and store employees said they frequently see shoppers using their phones to check prices and research products.
Wayne-based Toys “R” Us has been aggressively promoting its offer to match competitors’ prices, including Amazon.com. Richard Barry, chief merchandising officer at Toys “R” Us, said Tuesday that the price-matching program has been a hit with customers.
Asked if the deep discounts caused by price-matching is killing Toys’ bottom line, Barry said, “It’s very important for us that we are competitive for our customers. Our strategy is not to sell just that single item.” By being competitive on key items, Toys “R” Us is hoping customers will leave with a shopping cart full of toys.
That, Green said, is what all retailers who offer Black Friday deals hope for.
The problem, he said, is many shoppers grab the door-buster specials and leave without buying anything else. “And they [retailers] don’t make money on the door-busters,” he said.