News Column

Black Friday Still King of All Shopping Days

November 24, 2013

By Kavita Kumar, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

black friday, popularity

Rebecca Brown is a self-confessed online shopping addict.

But the 21-year-old from Wellsville, Mo., won't be sitting in front of a computer on Thanksgiving night. Instead, she'll finish her dinner a bit earlier than usual -- well, now it's more of a lunch -- and then will head to the stores along with throngs of other young people.

"I wish I could say, 'Well, I'm just not going to do it this year,'" she said. "But with how low the prices are, you almost have to go."

Indeed the eve of Black Friday now belongs to the Millennial generation.

According to a survey for the National Retail Federation, about 28 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who plan to shop Black Friday weekend sales will shop on Thanksgiving Day, taking advantage of the ever-earlier store openings this year as some major retailers open at 6 and 8 p.m. And they will be joined by nearly 40 percent of 25- to 34-year-old Black Friday shoppers, some of whom will pull all-nighters at the mall.

In contrast, less than 18 percent of Black Friday shoppers age 45 and older plan to shop Thursday night.

And while Black Friday remains popular with all age groups, parents and grandparents will be more likely to shop on Saturday compared to the younger crowd.

"That up-all-night shopping really appeals more to the younger generation," said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for Prosper Insights and Analytics, which conducted the survey for the National Retail Federation. "It's fun to go out to the mall at midnight, whereas a mom of three might be more wiling to delay going out to the stores and wait until 5 a.m."

It's one of the quirks of Black Friday as we know it today. Over the years, the blockbuster shopping event the day after Thanksgiving has evolved into an all-hours shopping spree that goes on for four days.

Black Friday weekend has continued to grow in prominence in recent years despite the 24-7 competition from online retailers and the pre-Black Friday deals retailers have dangled weeks in advance. If anything, it's become an even bigger event.

Last year, a record 139 million people shopped online or in stores over the Black Friday weekend, up from 131 million in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation. Total spending reached an estimated $59.1 billion over that weekend.

Retail experts say cash-strapped consumers still reeling from the recession are being smarter about spending and they've homed in on Black Friday as one of the best times of year to buy.

Pricing surveys in recent years suggest that while you may not find the lowest prices on everything that weekend, you will find deep discounts on certain promoted items.

"Everyone thinks Black Friday is such a great deal," said Brian Yarbrough, retail analyst with Edward Jones in Des Peres. "Until you change the consumer mindset, that probably is not going to change a ton."

On top of that, retailers continue to build excitement and buzz with their earlier openings, hoping to get into consumers' wallets earlier in the holiday season and thus protect their share of the pie. They know that consumers are hungry for good deals, plain and simple.

"If you're offering a good deal at noon on Thanksgiving, consumers will show up," he said.

So in five years, he wondered whether it might be the norm for stores to be open all day on Thanksgiving.


Black Friday wasn't always king.

It's been the top shopping day in sales for the last decade, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But before that, it would alternate with Super Saturday -- the last Saturday before Christmas -- as the biggest shopping day of the year, said Bill Martin, the firm's founder.

"It's a critical day for retailers," he said. "They'll have a difficult time having a good holiday season if they don't have a good Black Friday."

Holiday sales make up about 20 percent -- and sometimes as much as 40 percent -- of a retailer's overall annual sales. Last year, retailers raked in about $11.2 billion in sales on that day, according to ShopperTrak.

Black Friday, which used to be considered the kickoff of the holiday shopping season, is a fairly modern phenomenon.

Daniel Butler, the National Retail Federation's vice president of retail operations, said that in the 1960s, nothing went on sale until the day after Thanksgiving. That was when retailers tried to sell off everything in their inventory that hadn't sold in the previous months.

"The thinking was the weather was beginning to get cold," he said. "So they saw they had an eight- to nine-week window to clear out the stock they had."

Consumers became trained to wait for sales until that day, which also happened to coincide with a day, of course, that many people had off from work, ushering in a big shopping opportunity.

In those days, the post-Thanksgiving sales were much more modest, too. "If something was 15 to 20 percent off, it was a big deal," he said.

But over the years, Black Friday picked up more steam as more Americans obtained credit cards, allowing them to make bigger purchases without having cash on hand, he said.

The importance of Black Friday, he added, has always gone beyond just the sales that stores ring up that day.

"It gives you a chance to register in the consumers' mind all that you're carrying for the holiday season," he said.

As the popularity of Black Friday grew, the concept of doorbusters -- heavily discounted items, often in limited quantities -- gained momentum in the 1970s when retailers realized it was to their advantage to have customers come by their stores first, Butler said. That was when consumers still had lots of cash in their wallets -- as opposed to the end of the day when they were tired and had already spent a lot.

Over the years, retailers have heightened the excitement by offering sweeter doorbusters -- sometimes priced so low that they don't make any profit on them -- to lure customers in the hopes they'll end up buying other items that are not on sale, too.

Haim Mano, a marketing professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the earlier Black Friday openings and heavily promoted discounts all help to ramp up excitement and the consumer's emotions, which often leads to more impulse buying.

"The more excited you are, you have less control," he said. "When we are excited, we make a lot of decisions that are not very deliberate."

Many of those sales and deals are only "while supplies last" or only last a few hours. So that heightens the sense of urgency among consumers who acutely feel the pressure of a deadline.

"'While supplies last' is a great motivator," Mano said. "It's one of the greatest tricks marketers have."


Sarah Stroup, 35, of south St. Louis County, knows that Black Friday shopping is not for everyone.

But she loves it. Over the last 16 years that she's been shopping that day, she's brought many first-timers with her. Her sister hated it and never came back. But her sister-in-law got hooked and often joins her yearly trek.

"I look forward to it all year," Stroup said. "It's just the excitement of it -- seeing everybody out there. We're all here for the same reason. It's really good people-watching. There are some people who lose their minds completely."

She had mixed feelings when the Black Friday first began creeping into Thanksgiving a few years ago. But now she's accustomed to it and appreciates the longer hours to shop.

So her new Thanksgiving Day tradition is to sleep late, eat dinner around 3 p.m., then lay out the ads to decide her route for the night.

She usually hits Kmart first and then Target. She may come home at some point to rest, but she won't sleep. She'll then head back to the stores early Friday morning.

"I'm on an adrenaline rush," she said. "I can't sleep that night."

There is usually a Starbucks run added into the mix. Later in the morning, she comes home and puts up her Christmas tree. Then she crashes.

Some years, she and her family will wear the same colors so they can more easily find each other in the stores. Last year, they wore red sweatshirts. This year, they might make their own shirts.

As for this year, she has one big wish for Black Friday.

"Maybe if it could just not be cold this year," she said.


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Original headline: Black Friday still king of all shopping days, draws younger consumers

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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