Why wait for Black Friday?
Door-buster deals, layaway entice shoppers to tackle holiday shopping list now.
Tyrone Richardson / The Morning Call
For shoppers like Erica Vasquez, Black Friday is too late to start chasing down holiday gifts..
“There’s deals right now. I was in JC Penney last weekend getting gifts … they had a good deal with coupons,” Vasquez said outside the Walmart on MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township on Thursday. “It’s early, but the prices are good to buy.”
The 26-year-old Allentown resident, like many consumers, has been in holiday shopping mode for several weeks, taking advantage of popular layaway programs and Black Friday-esque deals since October at merchants from Best Buy to The Home Depot.
Area shopping venues have already displayed a sea of holiday sale signs. That includes the recently opened The Shoppes at Sands outlet mall in Bethlehem, home to a half dozen merchants such as DKNY advertising deals like an additional 50 percent off price tags.
Black Friday, traditionally when retailers cross into profitability for the full year, typically draws large crowds of shoppers in search of heavily discounted items such as flat screen televisions, toys and clothing.
In recent years, the day after Thanksgiving has lost some of its luster as merchants push jaw-dropping deals for several weeks before Black Friday to get a jump on their competitors. Boscov’s and Best Buy were touting deep discounts around the same time people were picking out Halloween costumes.
“You now see them spreading out the impact of Black Friday into like three and a half months,” said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners. “This is due to competitiveness because when one merchant does it the others follow and the idea in the retailer’s mind is to make sure they have little to no holiday inventory the day after Christmas.”
Green cautioned that the early deals could leave holiday shopping procrastinators with fewer options in December.
“This might be one of the first years when we may see prices of some items go up the week before Christmas,” he said. “That’s due to supply and demand because there could be little supply and high demand for some items.”
More than half of consumers plan to begin holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, according to a recent survey by industry research firm Deloitte LLP.
But, getting them to stores with door-buster deals and layaway may not boost profits. Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $395 on gifts this year, down 15 percent from the average gift spending of $466 a year ago, according to the Deloitte survey.
“Lackluster employment growth, debt crises and stock market fluctuations have battered consumer confidence while inflation left many with lighter wallets this fall,” said Alison Paul, vice chairwoman and Deloitte LLP’s retail sector leader in the United States. “Consumers will be conservative this holiday season, but remain resilient and maintain a more positive interest in holiday shopping than we witnessed during the recession.”
The National Retail Federation recently forecasted that U.S. retail sales would increase 2.8 percent in November and December, excluding cars, gasoline and restaurants.
On Black Friday, merchants will battle to see who can open the earliest. Walmart’s Black Friday sales will start Thanksgiving night and Macy’s and Target will open at midnight.
“The holidays bring hectic schedules and tight budgets, so extending store hours and offering lots of additional ways to save makes Target a great choice for affordable, one-stop holiday shopping,” Target Executive Vice President Tina Schiel said in a written statement.
Many merchants also have published sneak previews of their Black Friday circulars, including Macy’s, which will have deals like $99 Kenneth Cole overcoats and 40 percent off coffee and espresso makers.
“Since retail sales fell below expectation in October, it shows that consumers are cautious about their spending. This makes retailers anxious about the economy and more willing to open early,” said Denise T. Ogden, a marketing professor at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “It’s a competitive environment to bring in customers. The winner: customers. The loser: [store] employees who had plans for Thanksgiving now have to work.”
The online marketplace also is in the early discount battle as retailers like hhgregg and Best Buy have been advertising exclusive deals. Sears took a jab at competitors with its Nov. 7 advertisement Cyber Monday Now, which included an additional 15 percent off sale items.
Cyber Monday, or the Monday after Thanksgiving, is traditionally when people return to work after the holiday break and browse for gifts on office computers.
Sears is also among several merchants heavily advertising layaway this holiday season. The pay-over-time program, which faded with the popularity of store credit cards, is being offered by names such as Walmart, Kmart, Toys R Us, TJ Maxx and Big Lots.
According to a survey completed by product research website ConsumerSearch.com in October, 42 percent of respondents indicated they expect to use layaway for holiday gifts this year.
“As our survey results show, layaway will likely make a big difference to a number of shoppers this holiday season, especially as people face smaller budgets and look for ways to spend their money as wisely and effectively as possible,” said Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com.