Justine Griffin / Herald Tribune – We’ve heard it all before.
Pent-up demand. Cautious optimism. Earlier store openings. Online versus brick-and-mortar.
Predictions for retail this holiday season remain fuzzy.
Some, like the National Retail Federation, a trade group representing businesses around the nation, are optimistic that this could be the turnaround year for retail, which has suffered in the wake of the recession and struggled to keep up with the growing scope of online commerce.
Others believe consumer confidence isn’t quite there yet, even with falling unemployment rates and ever-cheaper gas. They see Americans as still shopping for value only.
The proof, as they say, will be in the proverbial pudding.
“Overall, the holiday season will probably be pretty steady,” said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail analyst who predicts the season’s sales will rise by less than 3 to 5 percent compared with 2013. “It all depends on how the Black Friday weekend goes. If it doesn’t go well, retailers will have to discount merchandise quickly and through Christmas, which isn’t good for anyone.”
The Florida Retail Federation, which historically has produced optimistic forecasts for the Sunshine State, is predicting a 5 percent jump in sales this holiday season. An improving stock market, rising job creation and a steady housing market suggest a year of positive growth, said the group’s CEO, Rick McAllister.
November and December are where chain stores make a large portion of their sales for the year. Black Friday gets its name for the time of the year — once it was basically a single shopping day right after Thanskgiving — when stores turn a profit, the ink in their ledgers shifting from red to black.
But things have changed drastically in retail and continue to evolve, especially for Black Friday.
While growth has been slow but steady for retailers over the past few years, consumers just aren’t buying the way they used to, said Green, the Phoenix analyst.
“Black Friday isn’t about shopping on the day after Thanksgiving anymore,” he said. “It’s spread out all weekend. People aren’t cross-shopping, either. They’re coming in for the doorbuster deal and they’re leaving.
“Value is still very important.”
Braving the crowds
There are strong indications that most Americans won’t shop on Black Friday this year.
A study by Bankrate.com, a Palm Beach-based consumer financial firm, found only 28 percent of shoppers plan to make purchases inside a physical store on Black Friday.
That figure only rises to 40 percent when adding in those who will shop online that day.
“Consumers are well aware that deep discounts will be offered throughout the holiday shopping season,” Bankrate.com analyst Jeanine Skowronski said. “They don’t necessarily need to brave the Black Friday crowds to score them.”
The study also had a few surprises: Despite their tech-savvy reputation, shoppers in the 18-29 age group are 13 percentage points more likely to shop in stores on the day after Thanksgiving.