Black Friday interest fading as online sales grow

rburris@thestate.comNovember 23, 2013 

— Deals galore are out there for Black Friday shoppers, and more major retailers than ever will open on Thanksgiving Thursday to try to turn a Christmas buck as interest in the holiday tradition dwindles.

But what are you doing on Cyber Monday?

Cracks are showing on what traditionally has been the busiest shopping day of the year. A major consumer survey company predicts 85 percent of consumers won’t shop the day after Thanksgiving this year.

However, a couple of days later on Cyber Monday, almost half of consumers – 46 percent – will shop online for deals, respondents told New York-based global ratings and information giant Nielsen in their 2013 Holiday Spending Forecast.

Only 13 percent in the survey said they plan even to visit a store on Black Friday, continuing an erosion of interest in Black Friday’s mystique, characterized by pre-dawn wake-ups where consumers herd off to stand in long lines and rush retailers for limited quantities of selected bargain items.

Both the numbers of consumers who told Nielsen they will skip Black Friday and also shop online this year are up over last year, while the number who said they will shop in a store this year is down from 2012, for the fourth straight year, Nielsen said.

The success, mobility and ubiquity of technology devices from smartphones to tablets has slowly been relegating stores, in business for sales, to showrooms used for browsing.

Yet, local businesses – from suburban malls to jewelers downtown and big box stores in Lexington County and Northeast Richland are hopeful the Christmas shopping season will be robust.

“We are very hopeful that we will continue to see the same much-appreciated support during the balance of this year and into the future,” said Tom Dornfeld, Columbiana Centre senior general manager, noting that 2013 has been “another very strong year” for retailers at the Harbison-area mall. The mall will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, with anchor tenants Belk, J.C. Penney and Sears swinging into action, along with other smaller retailers, Dornfeld said. Additional stores will open at midnight and the balance will open at 6 a.m. Black Friday morning.

In a good sign, consumer spending spiked in October, despite a partial federal government shutdown for the first half of the month.

“Consumer spending is growing as we head into the holiday shopping season and the timing couldn’t be better,” Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation president and CEO, said in a statement. “Consumers seem to have found some sense of confidence, driven, in part, by lower gas prices.”

Lower October gasoline prices were the driving force in a 0.1 percent downtick in consumer prices, according to Wells Fargo. Gas prices nationally were down 2.9 percent for the month, the group said.

October retail sales, meanwhile, increased a seasonally adjusted 2.5 percent over September, and an unadjusted 4.2 percent from a year ago, according to the federation, which said it remained optimistic retailers would have a healthy Christmas outcome.

But, the world’s largest retail trade association also stressed the need for Congress and the White House to collaborate more to inspire confidence in the U.S. economy and spark investment and job growth across the board.

“This is key in order to sustain long term economic recovery that is currently being led by the retail industry,” Shay said.

Wells Fargo said it expects 2013 holiday sales to rise 3.7 percent over last year’s purchases, while the retail federation expects sales to rise by 3.9 percent.

To get there though, Shay and other experts said retailers would have to rely on heavy promotions to whip up customers and sales this holiday season. That includes cash prize sweepstakes offers, free gifts with purchases and other concessions, Shay said in the Federation’s pre-Thanksgiving weekend shopping survey.

That survey said only 140 million people plan to shop over the four-day holiday weekend this year compared to 147 million who said in last year’s survey they planned to.

“Holiday shoppers can look forward to numerous online, mobile and in-store promotions from retailers for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday weekend,” the Federation survey said.

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