Stores Push Black Friday Into October
Attention bargain shoppers! It is October — and Black Friday specials are here.
The year’s most popular discount shopping event, referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving, is arriving ahead of Halloween this year, with some promotions beginning this week and others throughout November.
Both retailers who have had tepid sales lately (Wal-Mart Stores, Sears) and those with rising sales (Amazon, Target) are pushing the tradition forward in a bid to snag shoppers’ limited money.
Recession-trained customers are also pushing the stores to offer big deals now or risk losing out to competitors, though there is some skepticism about how significant some of the early discounts are.
The first “Black Friday Now” deals at Sears will be available beginning Friday and Saturday.
Amazon’s electronics department will offer sales on items like Blu-ray players and high-definition TVs on Friday, and Toys “R” Us is putting all the items in its 80-page Christmas toy book on sale on Sunday.
Black Friday creep has been around for a while, but analysts say this year breaks new ground: the range of stores offering early discounts is wider, the discounts are steeper and the sale periods longer — in some instances, a full month before the real thing.
Sears, for example, offered early promotions last year but expanded the hours and days this year, while Amazon is beginning earlier than ever.
“Consumers have been trained to buy merchandise only ‘on sale,’ ” Sherif Mityas, a partner in the retail practice at the consulting firm A.T. Kearney, said in an e-mail.
“Given a limited budget, if retailers don’t capture that first or second purchase, they may find themselves with a lot of inventory the week before Christmas and the need for massive discounting to save the holiday.”
Some shoppers asked for a longer sale period, both for convenience and out of nervousness over crowds, said Barbara Schrantz, executive vice president of marketing and sales promotion at Bon-Ton Stores.
After a Wal-Mart employee was trampled and killed on Black Friday in 2008, stores increased their crowd-control measures, but they do not want safety concerns to keep shoppers away from stores.
In some instances, deal hunters say, stores are just hijacking the Black Friday label. Mike Riddle, who started the site Black-Friday.netin 2006 to track deals, said shoppers should not believe that “special” prices for the Friday were necessarily lower than the usual price.
“Retailers are taking advantage of the term,” he said, citing the first Sears “Black Friday Now” circular as “nothing more than their weekly ad rebranded.”
Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Sears Holdings, said the prices were not standard discounts; so far, customer response has been positive about this weekend’s deals, he said.
Traditionally, stores used low prices on the Friday after Thanksgiving to attract shoppers, who, they hoped, would put full-price items in their carts alongside the bargains. In 2008, as the economy sank, the offers became more intense.
“Retailers had to go even further in the breadth and depth of their sales post-Black Friday in attempts to salvage some degree of revenue,” Mr. Mityas said.
Last year, with consumers trained to look for deals, “sales growth improved, but at the cost of profitability — retailers were essentially buying their foot traffic,” he said. This year, the pre-Friday deals are expanding more than ever.
And consumers and retailers are more evenly matched, Mr. Mityas said, as shoppers demand early and frequent sales, and retailers “aim to drive foot traffic without resorting to ‘70 percent off everything’ signs in the windows.”
For the first time, Target will run a four-day sale starting the Sunday before Thanksgiving in which more than 170 gift items will be discounted as much as 50 percent.