At 30, Black Friday loses its retail punch
Early promotions, online deals chip away at day’s place in shopping lore
Jaclyn Trop / The Detroit News
The post-Thanksgiving Black Friday shopping tradition turns 30 this year and looks as though it’s a little over the hill in Michigan and across the country.
Analysts and consumers say Black Friday — which got its start three decades ago at Detroit’s J.L. Hudson’s department store — is losing some of its luster as the crowning shopping day of the holiday retail season.
Retailers are extending the promotional season and offering discounts earlier, while e-commerce sites allow shoppers to snag the same — or better — bargains at home without waiting in line for limited quantity, early morning doorbuster deals.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is holding a Super Saturday sale today with deep discounts such as $50 off a Nook Color e-reader. Major promotions from Toys R Us and Sears kicked off Sunday in Metro Detroit and nationwide, weeks ahead of usual.
Sears is offering free shipping on orders of $99 or more, while Toys R Us is launching its Super Savers Pass with exclusive coupons for members of its rewards programs.
Black Friday is still the biggest retail shopping day of the year, but early promotions could spell weaker sales that day, said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners.
“Certainly, the day’s importance is getting diluted,” as stores start rolling out deep discounts on gift items and holiday decor sooner, Green said. Some chains, such as Wal-Mart, began their promotions as early as September, he said.
Turnout this year could be the lowest in three years: 44 percent of consumers say they are likely to shop on Black Friday, compared with 47 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2009, according to Accenture’s annual holiday shopping survey of 500 consumers.
Michigan consumers are eager for the early promotions. They are increasingly taking advantage of deals throughout the fall to get the most for their money — even if it means starting early like Leah Meray, of Ferndale, who plans to have finished 90 percent of her shopping by Black Friday.
“I find that there are good deals all year-round,” Meray said. “Not just on Black Friday.”
Meray is not alone. Shoppers are spreading out their dollars, allocating, say, 10 percent of their budget in September and October each, leaving them less money on Black Friday, said Susan Yashinsky of Sphere Trending, a trend consulting firm in Waterford.
Analysts project a second straight year of sales increases, with moderate growth of about 3 percent nationally.
Michigan’s retailers expect to see an average of 6 percent sales growth for the holidays, according to the Michigan Retailers Association in Lansing.
But consumers plan to approach their gift buying with restraint. Seven in 10 shoppers told Accenture they expect their spending to be “careful” or “controlled” this holiday season.
“It’s going to be a very thoughtful purchasing cycle,” Yashinsky said.
But Black Friday remains a powerful annual shopping tradition and social event, even as it grows weaker as a retail day. The tradition got its start in 1981, when Detroit’s now-defunct J.L. Hudson’s department store opened its doors a half-hour earlier — at 9 a.m. — and held an hourlong sale to build excitement and boost slow sales.
The day has become a brand in its own right, said Brad Wilson, founder of deal sites Bradsdeals.com and BlackFriday2011.com.
Target held an early Black Friday sale in July and a Cyber Monday sale in September.
Cyber Monday is the name recently given to the Monday following Thanksgiving when consumers allegedly return to their jobs and their computers, resulting in a pickup of e-commerce sales and traffic for the season.
Daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial “changed the psychology and awareness for consumers in a big way,” Wilson said. “They’ve made shoppers believe you can get a deal on anything if you go online and look for a coupon. And they’re right.”
But retailers are reluctant to say Black Friday is becoming a less significant selling day. Target, Macy’s and Kohl’s will open at midnight on Thanksgiving Day instead of before dawn on Friday morning.
“It’s an interesting thesis and theory,” said Target spokesman Eddie Baeb. “But the fact that we’ve extended our hours is a nod to the significance and the magnitude of that day.”
Black Friday remains significant enough that it prompts strong feelings among consumers — whether they capitalize on the shopping day or not.
“There’s a real dichotomy among consumers regarding Black Friday,” Green said. “They either love it or hate it — there’s no in-between. For those who love it, it is a sport.”