Black Friday devouring holiday (+ survey)

rburris@thestate.comNovember 18, 2012 

While it’s still called Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year is starting earlier than ever on Thanksgiving Day – and might never start on Friday again.

And, tradition aside, Black Friday isn’t even the beginning of the Christmas shopping season any longer as retailers – desperate to compete with each other and with growing online sales – roll out deep discounts earlier in November.

Still, that doesn’t mean shoppers won’t be standing in long lines the day after Thanksgiving Day to take advantage of whatever sweet deals they can find. Retailers who just a few years ago went to great measures to keep their Black Friday deals secret are now rolling them out early.

“Consumers (still) look at these sales, like Black Friday, in great anticipation because it’s the only time of the year when retailers are so aggressive they actually tell the shopper ‘not only is this a good deal but we only have 13 of these, or 25 of these, or 11 of these per store – or we only have 1,000 of these to sell overall,’ said Britt Beemer, retail analyst at America’s Research Group in Charleston.

“They actually warn the customer exactly what to expect from the viewpoint of whether they need to be there an hour before the store opens, or three days before the store opens.”

Walmart is leading the pack along with Sears by opening up its Black Friday deals at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. It’s advertising a $179 deal on a 15.6-inch Compaq Presario notebook.

Best Buy, which will hold off opening until midnight, a couple of weeks ago released “preview” ads of some of its Black Friday deals, which include a Samsung laptop bundle that includes a carrying case, wireless mouse, and security software for $349.95.

Office Depot, which competes for its holiday sales dollars against the likes of Staples, OfficeMax and other retailers, is touting its HP PC with AMD E2 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB for $259.99.

Target, which opened at midnight last year, is pushing the opening up to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year.

Consumers are expected to turn out. Some retail forecasters such as Shop.org predict 2012 holiday sales to increase by as much as 12 percent over last year’s, to $96 billion. Others, such as the National Retail Federation, predict a more moderate holiday sales increase of 4.1 percent.

But not all are happy about the earlier openings. Target employees, who protested last year’s early opening, plan to deliver a change.org petition Monday with 225,000 signatures to corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., asking the retailer to reconsider its plans.

But Beemer said protests of the earlier and earlier openings are again unlikely to have much sway with retailers. “That’s what 10 percent unemployment does for you,” he said.

Black Fridays in recent years also have been marred by mob scenes, personal injury and even death.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of people out on Thursday. There’ll still be people standing in lines (on Black Friday). Just hope there are no fistfights,” Beemer said.

Regardless, the majority of retailers still won’t be open on Thanksgiving Day, and some of them are doing quite well, particularly the locally owned ones.

“We are very much a family-oriented store and we want to be part of the community,” said Deedra Senter, co-owner of The Learning Express in Irmo and Lexington. “But we want to respect that family time on Thanksgiving Day for us and for our employees.”

The Learning Express held its first big sale of the holiday season on Friday, Senter said, and sales definitely are trending up. Whereas customers went mostly for small-item purchases last year, they are scooping up larger items, such as ride-on toys, this year.

The store is selling multiple quantities of its $49.99 ride-on Plasma Car, Senter said – grandmothers come in and buy one for each of their grandchildren. And their bestseller this year has been their Boogie Board, a green energy – so, no battery – etch-a-sketch-type toy that allows children to play games but also to do their homework. That sells for $29.99.

“We survived the Great Recession – we’re so grateful,” Senter said of her and co-owner Paige Watson. “This is a welcome change for us.”

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