Love it or hate it, the Black Friday shopping bonanza that's seeped into Thanksgiving Day and the subsequent weekend is here to stay.
Although the annual event looks much different than it did a few years ago—with retailers kicking off these deals Halloween weekend, and inching their store openings earlier on Thursday—Black Friday sales will nonetheless set the tone for which stores will be the season's winners and losers.
According to data from MasterCard SpendingPulse, approximately 70 percent of a shopper's Black Friday spending typically occurs in the first two stores they visit. And with 45 percent of consumers planning to shop on Thanksgiving Day—an increase from 38 percent last year, according to Accenture—the stakes are even higher to get customers in the door as early as possible.
"If early openings, severe markdowns and blitz deals weren't working, retailers wouldn't be doing them," said Greg Maloney, president and CEO of real estate firm JLL's retail division.
According to the National Retail Federation, 45.6 percent of consumers who were polled from Nov. 3 to Nov. 10 said they hadn't yet started their holiday shopping. While that figure was only slightly lower than the 46.2 percent from the same period last year, it's the lowest in the survey's seven-year history.
That's despite the fact that a slew of retailers, including Amazon and Wal-Mart, are pushing their sales even earlier—sometimes into Halloween weekend. The NRF attributed the holdout to a game of chicken, in which consumers hope that by waiting longer, they'll get a better deal.
But regardless of how good the discounts end up being over Black Friday, Michael Brown, a partner with A.T. Kearney's consumer and retail practice, said shoppers will no doubt flock to stores' doorbuster deals. That's because at the end of the day, Black Friday isn't all about getting the best price—it's also about the sport.
"It really is the Super Bowl of shopping," Brown said. "It's part of our holiday routine. It's how we kick off the holidays, and it's supplemented by great sales everywhere."
One thing that has changed, however, is the significance of Black Friday as a single-day event. That's because Thanksgiving Day openings by retailers including Macy's, Best Buy and Toys R Us have shifted some spending—particularly among millennials—to Thursday.
According to ShopperTrak predictions, 2014 will mark the first year in nearly a decade that Black Friday won't be the biggest day of the season in terms of traffic and sales. Instead, the Saturday before Christmas is expected to nab both of these crowns, with the procrastinators winning out.
"Our numbers show, over the last three years that Thursday sales are growing at a pretty rapid pace," said Bill Martin, found of ShopperTrak. "It's leaching sales from Black Friday."
Although A.T. Kearney's Brown predicts earlier openings will drive additional shoppers to the stores over the Black Friday period, he said they won't cause individual consumers to boost their budgets as time goes on. That's been the theory of some experts, who say that the earlier shoppers start spending, the more likely they are to fork over more cash as the season progresses, and they cash in additional paychecks.
Regardless of whether that notion shakes out, retailers that open their doors early stand to benefit by attracting repeat customers. According to a previous study by America's Research Group, there's a 70 percent chance that shoppers who visit a store for its Black Friday sales will come back two or three more times throughout the season. If they don't shop at a particular store, there's a 30 percent chance they won't come at all that season.
"[Thanksgiving openings have] become the price of entry," A.T. Kearney's Brown said. "Black Friday has always been about being the first to get the consumers."