Once a fan of big sales events, Krystle Gabele plans to steer clear of the packed malls and big-box retailers on the day after Thanksgiving.
“I grew up doing Black Friday,” said Gabele, 33, a freelance web editor who works from her far north Fort Worth home. “It was always a big deal, getting up at 5 a.m. and heading to the stores with my family — a real adventure.”
Less memorable were the stampeding shoppers, people snaring the last large-screen TV just as her parents got to the aisle, and tugs of war over marked-down clothing. Moreover, she discovered in recent years that deals just as good or better could be had either earlier or later.
Gabele’s Black Friday avoidance doesn’t mean she’ll spend less this holiday season. Married with an infant in tow, she has raised her budget to $400 from last year’s $250. She’ll just spread out her buying.
“I wait for the best bargain possible,” explained Gabele, a self-described savvy shopper. “I’ll wait till they throw it on sale. A couple of years ago, that would have been different.”
If a number of surveys and projections are any indication, Gabele will be far from alone. Although it’s likely to remain the single busiest shopping day of the year, sales on Black Friday — the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season — are predicted to dip 1.7 percent this year while overall holiday spending is expected to rise by 2 to 3.7 percent.
Some predictions are more optimistic than others. Kohl’s has given investors a less-than-rosy outlook for the holiday season and Wal-Mart cut its sales forecast. But that could be good news for bargain hunters since such forecasts might lead to steeper discounts, some analysts say.
Many retail analysts and business school marketing experts blame the big chains themselves for blurring what was once called the “Super Bowl of Retailing” by opening ever earlier, then mounting pre-Black Friday sales.
“Retailers continue to undermine each other by running Black Friday sales in advance and extending store hours, which only weakens the sense of urgency needed to encourage sales,” said Darrin C. Duber-Smith, a marketing professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
In a newspaper ad more than a week before Thanksgiving, Nebraska Furniture Mart declared: “BLACK FRIDAY STARTS NOW!”
And the Berkshire Hathaway unit is not an outlier. Target will roll out “10 days of Deals” starting Sunday, and consumers “will have access” to Black Friday deals on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. RadioShack also said its sales will start on Wednesday, as a thank you to loyal customers “who don’t like to get trampled at big box stores on Black Friday.”
More holiday spending (29 percent) was expected to take place before the start of Black Friday week than during (26 percent), according to the 2015 Holiday Outlook by the consultancy unit of PwC.
“The reasons for fewer shoppers on what is still the biggest shopping day of the year is that more stores are opening on Thanksgiving night or offering good deals well before Thanksgiving weekend,” said Deborah Fowler, professor of retail management at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Careful, slow-on-the-trigger shoppers like Gabele are believed to be affecting retail strategy.
“Some consumers have signaled they’re going to wait till after Black Friday week,” Steve Barr, who heads PwC’s U.S. retail and consumer practice, said in a phone interview from San Francisco. “That forces retailers to go promotional.”
Wal-Mart is kicking off “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving evening. Unlike last year, Wal-Mart will have only one “sales event” that night, at 6, not another at 8 like in 2014. This will “simplify” the shopping experience for customers, the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain said.
Still, the retailer says a majority of doorbuster deals will be available at 2:01 a.m. CST Thanksgiving morning online at walmart.com. And hoping to avoid scuffles in the aisles, it’s pledging to deeply stock the most popular items — having sourced 1 million TVs, 15 million movie DVDs and 10 million sets of PJs.
“Walmart will never be the retailer that broadcasts a great price on Black Friday, and then ends up only having a few in stock,” Steve Bratspies, its chief merchandising officer, said in a statement.
Best Buy will start its in-store Black Friday sales an hour before Target and Wal-Mart, opening at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving and closing at 1 a.m. local time, then reopening at 8 a.m.
Retailers are pushing the boundaries of what Michael Londrigan, a professor at New York’s LIM College, calls the industry’s “silly season.”
“Some are starting earlier and others are opting out, such as REI,” said Londrigan, whose school focuses on the fashion industry.
REI, never seen as a major Black Friday player, garnered widespread publicity when its CEO announced that workers will get not only Thanksgiving off with pay, but also the next day. He wants REI members to enjoy the outdoors instead of shopping.
“I think this is a brilliant move and it has nothing to do with not being able to compete with the big box retailers,” Londrigan said.
Of course, REI , a Seattle-based outdoor gear and clothing chain, is a co-op whose 5 million members account for 80 percent of sales, he noted. “These are brand-loyal customers who are not going anywhere. They will continue to shop REI regardless of the date or a sale.”
Grapevine-based GameStop also garnered media coverage by announcing it won’t be open on Thanksgiving. The announcement neglected to note that only about 200 of its 4,200 stores were open on the holiday last year. These were mall stores and GameStop felt it had to honor lease stipulations in 2014, spokesman Joey Mooring said.
This year, malls were informed that the video game outlets will be closed on Thanksgiving, but like others in the chain will open at 5 a.m. Friday and close at 9 p.m.
While overall holiday sales are expected to increase, PwC’s Barr sees a more complicated picture.
Black Friday focuses more on shoppers with household incomes less than $50,000. (PwC calls them “survivalists”.) And major chains are determined to capture as much of that segment as they can, “making Black Friday no longer a day, but a month, and the month is November,” Barr said.
“These households are still struggling and have not benefited from the economic recovery,” he said.
The increased spending that will make total sales higher will come from “selectionist” households earning more than $50,000. They are brand-conscious and more likely to snap up the latest personal electronic devices. Avid online shoppers, they are likely to launch their buying sprees after Black Friday, PwC predicted.
Worrisome are the 75 million millennials, between ages 18 and 24. While they spend $64 billion overall, less goes to gifts than with consumers 35 and older – 48 percent compared with 61 percent. And much more on travel and entertainment, 52 percent compared with 39 percent, according to PwC’s report.
“The consumer has clearly told us that no matter what income level, they love to get a good deal,” Barr said. “With the economic downturn in 2008, I believe we have permanently conditioned the holiday shopper to get significant promotions and discounts.
“In October, many retailers signaled they would be disciplined on sales. But guess what happened? As soon as one of their key competitors went promotional, they had no choice.”