Six Things to Watch for on Black Friday
The frenzy is about to begin.
Thanksgiving marks the starting line for America’s annual holiday shopping hysteria. Deal-hungry crowds will jam through sliding doors of big-box shops (sometimes breaking them), pack the aisles of discount retailers, and rummage through the racks of department stores during the last week of November. And yes, there will probably be some fists thrown and perhaps the indelicate scent of pepper spray.
This year, we’re likely to see stores continue to spread out traditional doorbuster discounts over weeks, not just on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There’ll be more stores reversing Black Friday’s backward seepage into Thanksgiving, and perhaps some much-needed good news for the embattled apparel industry. And while it remains unclear how confident Americans feel about spending money after a vitriolic presidential election, the National Retail Federation forecasts sales during the last two months of this year (excluding automobiles, gas, and restaurants) will hit $655.8 billion, which is a 3.6 percent increase over the same period in 2015.
With all this in mind, here are six things about this year’s shopping season you need to know:
1. There’s no rush: The sales will keep coming in December
Some 59 percent of Americans plan to shop between Thanksgiving Day and the following Sunday, according to the NRF. Here’s another way to look at that: Some 41 percent of U.S. consumers are going to keep their credit cards holstered during those magic retail days. But probably not for long.
These aren’t heartless Grinches–at least not all of them. Some just like to procrastinate on gift-buying. Others already blew their budget. Realizing these folks are out there, retailers have in recent years moved sales into December. Some have even been dangling their discounts well before Thanksgiving, while others try to hold the line on prices until closer to Christmas. Call it Pink November or Gray December.
Kuiu, an online retailer of hunting gear and apparel, began its “Black Friday” sale a week early, on Nov. 22. “We realize we’re competing for a fairly fixed amount of dollars, so the sooner you get them to commit to your brand, the better,” said Chief Executive Officer Jason Hairston. “And there are a lot of consumers who only buy stuff on sale.”
The NRF said about 14 percent of consumers had at least half of their holiday shopping finished by the start of this week. Meanwhile, there’s an uptick in the number of people looking for “stress-free shopping,” according to an annual Kantar Retail survey. At this point, it’s almost on par with “spending less” on a list of priorities.
2. A ‘Goldilocks economy’ means this is the best time to spend your money
While the country’s political discourse may be volatile, the conditions for shopping are propitious. Interest rates, inflation, and unemployment are all about as low as economists could hope, a rare set of conditions that Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan’s consumer confidence survey, calls “a Goldilocks economy.”
Not surprisingly, would-be shoppers are feeling relatively sanguine. The Michigan consumer confidence index rose to its highest point for the month of November in a decade.
Granted, there’s a big asterisk on that data point: It was compiled from surveys taken before the election. Though economists worry about the impact of a Donald Trump-instigated trade war, they’re bullish on his proposed tax cuts. Indeed, equity markets have been ascendant—for retailers in particular.
3. Stay home and watch football. More stores won’t be open until Friday
Rebellious retailers are fighting to halt the reverse creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving Day. Stores clamoring for more shopping days during the gift-giving season began infringing on the holiday a decade ago, and now most of the biggest retailers open their doors on Thursday. Among them are Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kmart Corp., Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., Best Buy Co., Target Corp., and Macy’s Inc. That means a sizable chunk of the almost 5 million retail salespeople in the U.S. are forced to work on the holiday.
But there are those who refuse, like video game seller GameStop Corp., bookstore Barnes & Noble Inc., and discount clothing shop TJ Maxx. Perhaps the loudest critic of Thanksgiving openings in recent years has been outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., which will close its 149 stores for the second straight year on both the holiday and Black Friday. REI CEO Jerry Stritzke has repeatedly blasted retailers that choose not to cede the holiday, saying he “hates to see that kind of decision” and hopes that the “vast majority” of stores will change their mind. (Taking this sort of stand has reaped benefits for the company.)
Mall of America, the most famous mall in the nation, decided to give its 1,200 workers in Bloomington, Minn., the day off this Thanksgiving in an effort to “give the holiday back” to employees, executives announced. The mall will open at 5 a.m. on Black Friday instead. There are more than 500 stores inside the mall, and while they’re free to stay open if they wish, they will do so without the mall’s staff.
4. Forget about a new iPhone—you’re probably getting socks this year
Apparel and shoe retailers may get a much-needed bump this year, as shoppers are expected to shell out a larger percentage of cash on clothing and footwear, while allocating less to consumer electronics, according to a report from Citi. All categories of devices are down year-over-year, with smartphones, fitness trackers, personal computers, and streaming media faring the worst, the report stated.
The clothing segment is being bolstered by athletic apparel, a red-hot trend over the past couple of years that's “still going strong,” despite fears that the activewear trend had run its course, according to Citi. Analysts see apparel and shoes making up about 14 percent of the holiday gift budget, up from 12 percent in 2015.
5. Hold off on buying yourself that Canada Goose coat: Santa may bring you one
It’s going to be a cold holiday weekend along the East Coast, and that bodes well for outerwear.
Shopper demand for cold-weather clothes will get a lift over Black Friday, according to data from weather intelligence firm Planalytics. Many markets in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic coast are seeing weather-driven demand jump by more than 10 percent compared with the same period last year. That’s welcome news for any sellers of sweaters and coats, especially after last year’s slow start left shop racks full of outerwear until late winter.
Planalytics predicts weather-driven demand for outerwear will see a 2 percent rise overall this weekend, with such cities as Hartford, Conn., Pittsburgh, and Baltimore experiencing increases of 4 percent or more, while long-sleeved sweaters will see a huge increase in the Midwest and a whopping 23 percent in Chicago.
6. Time is on everyone’s side
There are two extra days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, so there's more time to shop (and more time for retailers to sell).