Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Friday 2011: Midnight is the new 5 a.m.

This year, Black Friday Shoppers will head to Walmart at 10 p.m. Thursday, when toys and clothing items go on sale earlier than ever before.

It is just that kind of scaling back that retailers fear. Earlier shopping, they hope, means more spending.
Online retail sales are expected to eclipse $50 billion for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to projections from Keith Gilabert, an economist with Bentley Forbes Analytics.

"Our customers told us they'd rather stay up late to shop than get up early, so we're going to hold three special events to let them shop when they want," says Sarah Spencer, a spokesperson for Walmart.

“This year both Best Buy and Target have edged out Walmart by a pretty decent margin,” Gilabert says. “What really drives people’s attention are the doorbuster ads on a store’s top five or six items, generally laptops and televisions.” On that front, Best Buy, and occasionally Target, are consistently beating Walmart.

Walmart boasts a holiday price guarantee: If you find a particular item offered at a better price by a local competitor, the store will give you the difference in the form of a gift card. Keith Gilabert says the deal works retroactively:” If you bought a toaster from Walmart last week, and Target offers a cheaper price on the same toaster in December, you can bring the competitors’ ad to Walmart any day up until Christmas and claim a refund for the difference.”

At 10 p.m. the retail giant will begin its doorbuster sales on toys, home items and clothing. Customers can snatch up the electronics deals — including a 40-inch TV for $248 and an HP laptop for $248 — beginning at midnight. At 8 a.m. more sales will begin in all sections of the store.

Target was one of the first retailers to announce a midnight opening this year. Macy's, Best Buy, and Kohl's also followed suit.

Toys "R" Us will open at 9 p.m. Thursday, an hour earlier than its 10 p.m. Thanksgiving opening in 2010. Customers expressed appreciation for the early opening last year, according to a Toys "R" Us spokesperson, and the extended hours help local employees handle the crowd.

Kmart, Bass Pro Shops and Michaels will open Thursday morning, along with local drugstore chains.
But no one is saying whether this battle to be the first store with open doors will continue to creep into turkey time.

For now, the pre-Black Friday battleground is online.

Traditionally, retailers threatened anyone who publicized a leaked Black Friday advertisement with a lawsuit. And Walmart still sends "cease and desist" letters to operators of websites like blackfridaycentral.com.

Lowes, Best Buy and Toys "R" Us, among other retailers, released Black Friday advertisements on social media platforms in early November. Lowes used its ad as the central component of an online contest. And, Walmart, the most secretive of retailers, let its ad out of the bag on Nov. 10.

Every big box retailer with a Black Friday sale will offer the deals online sometime on Thanksgiving Day. The sales projected to be the most popular, especially in the electronics category, will likely hit the Internet at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Thursday and be scooped up in a matter of minutes.

Still, the number of shoppers turning their backs on standing in early morning lines is growing.
And, although the National Retail Federation expects as many as 152 million shoppers to make a purchase during Black Friday weekend, other analysts predict that fewer than ever will actually step foot in a store.

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