"Black Friday" was once known as the day that holiday shoppers rose before dawn to get in line at their favorite retailer for once-a-year discounts.
In recent years, however, Black Friday has morphed into a month-long retailing bacchanalia that's defined by extended in-store hours, Internet-only deals and smartphone-user specials.
The National Retail Federation estimates that 138 million shoppers will hit stores this weekend, and merchants hope that will signal a full-fledged return of reticent U.S. consumers.
After two straight seasons of lackluster holiday sales results, eager retailers used their best efforts to jumpstart this year's holiday shopping season, rolling out more Pre-Black Friday deals than ever before. Electronics specialist Newegg Inc. even held a "Black November" campaign starting after Halloween.
"This is our time of the year," said Toys "R" Us Chief Executive Officer Jerry Storch. "We know Christmas is competitive. We plan for it. We are aggressive and competitive with everyone."
Some of the biggest deals found on Black Friday advertisement Websites include a 40-inch LCD HDTV at Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) for under $300 - a savings of $250 - and the Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE: BKS) NOOK eReader at Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) for $99.99 - instead of its usual price of $150.
"Retailers are grasping for anything they can get," Farla Efros, senior vice president at consulting firm PwC, told MarketWatch. "Is Black Friday the silver bullet? No. It's a way to stimulate consumers to physically walk the doors in the hope they get the fever. If retailers miss the season, they are done for the year."
This year, more stores are opening their doors on Thursday - Thanksgiving Day -determined to be the first stop for holiday shoppers embarking on the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Sears Holdings Corp.'s (Nasdaq: SHLD) Sears and Kmart stores - as well as The Gap Inc.'s (NYSE: GPS) Old Navy chain - will all be open Thursday.
"Retailers are trying to be in front of customers 24/7," said Noam Paransky, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates. "It's exploding this year."
This year also underscores the emergence of the "smartphone." Savvy, smartphone-equipped shoppers will be able to take advantage of mobile-only deals as they shop. New mobile applications allow customers to scan barcodes for more detailed pricing and product information, to "check in" as they enter a store to qualify for special over-the-phone coupons, and access inventories online when the most popular items are out of stock on shelves.
"It's about making it easier for customers," said Bridget Trask of relationship-management company Convergys Corp.'s (NYSE: CVG) retail products group. "The buyer has a lot of choices. It's hard to compete on just prices any more."
And competition among stores has been more intense than ever this year. Retailers most successful at raking in revenue this weekend could get back on track after a recession that sent many chains deep into the red.
This brings us to next week's Money Morning "Question of the Week:" What's your
"Black Friday" shopping plan? Are you heading out to stores - as early as Thanksgiving Day - or do you prefer to shop online? Have you already started holiday shopping using some of the Pre-Black-Friday specials? Is your smartphone playing a role in this year's holiday shopping?
Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from you!
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News and Related Story Links:
- Money Morning:
Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Moving Business Online as Foot Traffic Declines
- The Associated Press:
Holiday shopping battle starts to get pitched
Black Friday deals hitting a fever pitch
- Money Morning News Archive:
Question of the Week Feature