Shoppers wild but wise
Sue Stock / News & Observer
On the surface, Black Friday looked pretty normal. Eager shoppers rushed to area shopping centers in the early morning hours and throughout the day to snap up bargains.
But this year, shoppers’ tentative mood has retailers on edge.
Depending on the results this weekend, retailers will quickly increase or reduce discounts for the online shopping rush known as “Cyber Monday.” They’ll follow the same strategies right up through December.
For deal seekers, Black Friday did not disappoint. They flooded area stores, snapping up clothes, shoes and big-ticket electronics like flat-screen TVs at “doorbuster” prices.
At the Belk at the Streets at Southpoint in Durham, friends Saloni Juneja and Nirja Parikh waded into the shoe department and just started grabbing boxes. Each wound up carrying four pairs of boots – all they could carry – and emerging triumphantly from the throng.
“They’re all $20,” Parikh said. “They’re normally $50 or $60. We just grabbed whatever we can. We’ll try them on downstairs.”
But it took that deep discount to get shoppers excited. Many stores, including Gap, Aeropostale and Justice, ran sales where customers got up to half off their entire purchase for the first few hours of the day.
“It seems the customers’ will power may be winning out,” said Britt Beemer, a retail analyst and founder of America’s Research Group in Charleston, S.C. “Last year, retailers never advertised 50 percent off until after Christmas.”
Retailers are doing what they can to encourage early shopping. The National Retail Federation predicts a modest 2.3 percent rise in holiday sales this year.
While shoppers were out in force Friday, and malls will likely stay crowded all weekend, consumers are saying “no” more often. They’re showing a little self-control and are sticking to what they need and the discounts. .
Alba Coronilla of Wendell is the kind of shopper that has retailers worried.
At Crabtree Valley Mall with her two daughters, Coronilla picked up shoes, clothes and other things her family needed. By 11 a.m. the family had amassed an impressive collection of shopping bags, but nearly everything inside was heavily discounted.
“Now they are having real sales,” she said. “Most of the stores have sales where you get the second item for half off at least.”
The rest of this holiday season will largely be dictated by how much extra shoppers buy this weekend, said Jeff Green, CEO of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix. Retailers will react accordingly, and fast, using technology to crunch sales data almost instantly.
“It’s a nimble thing,” he said. “They can make changes if they need to. If they say apparel did better than people expected and electronics did worse, then someone selling only electronics can adjust [prices] down.
“If sales come in at a much greater than anticipated rate, then for many consumers, you may have missed some of the best bargains of the season,” he added.
Shoppers who can afford to wait may continue to benefit from the rough economic waters throughout December, especially those who can be flexible and aren’t set on buying a specific product, said Graham Jones, vice president of Merchant Accounts from PriceGrabber.com.
“I think that if you have a specific model in mind that you have to have and it’s available, don’t wait,” he said. “But if you’re not sure on the model you want on, say, a TV, there will be discounts on other TVs that were not discounted on Cyber Monday or Black Friday.”
Closer to the holiday, the merchandise may just be priced to move, Green added.
“The worst thing is for a retailer to get stuck with too much inventory at the end of the year,” he said.
Mother and daughter Pam and Randy Burkhead said they plan to hold out. They shopped at the Streets at Southpoint mall in Durham on Friday morning, snapping up the best deals. They plan to shop straight through Christmas Eve, but they won’t buy anything without a hefty discount.
In addition to looking for bargains, many shoppers are very hesitant to break out their credit cards to buy that perfect gift.
The Burkheads, who are from Efland, are determined to stretch their dollars as far as they can. Both Pam’s husband and Randy have lost their jobs.
“We’ve been saving the whole year,” Randy Burkhead said. “Once I spend that money, it’s gone. Nothing’s going on credit cards this year.”
Still, there are many shoppers willing to spend, and retailers are hoping there are enough of them to save the season.
Mother and daughter Crystal Mosely and Evelyn Cooper said they like the deals but are willing to pay more sometimes.
Cooper said she does not expect retailers to discount everything.
“The only thing left now for them is to give it away,” she said.