Black Friday Comes Early This Year As Retailers Panic Over Holiday Sales


shoppingBy Doniel Gross

Forget the day after Thanksgiving. Walmart is starting its sales this Friday, a full week early. And in the race against e-commerce for holiday shoppers, it’s only going to get worse.

Historically, the several weeks between the onset of daylight saving time and the end of the year were a great time for retailers of all stripes. Lured by big discounts and fueled by cheap credit, shoppers hit the malls with abandon and stuffed their SUVs with bags of merchandise. Year after year, in an age of long business cycles and rare recessions, holiday sales reliably rose.

But things have changed. In 2008, for the first time in recent memory, holiday sales fell 4.5 percent from the year before. In 2009, with the recession lingering, sales barely budged. For the past few years, sales have risen solidly, but not impressively. In 2012, holiday sales rose just 2.7 percent. At the same time, brick-and-mortar retailers have been steadily losing market share to online retailers and e-commerce generally. Over the past year, total retail sales have risen 3.9 percent, but non-store retailers saw their business grow nearly 10 percent. It all means the holiday shopping season has become a period full of extreme pressure for retailers. Not only could the season make the difference between a profit and loss for the year, for many retailers it could make the difference between life and death.

That’s why big retailers keep pushing up the beginning of the season. First came the news earlier this month that retailers would start Black Friday on Thursday. After all, in between eating turkey, millions of Americans are undoubtedly shopping online on their PCs and tablets.

Unwilling to cede the day completely to the online folks, Target said it plans to open at 8 p.m. on the night of Thursday, November 28, and stay open until 11 p.m. Friday, November 29. That happened in 2012. But this year, stores are opening up their doors earlier than they did last year. Walmart, which opened for business at 8 p.m. last Thanksgiving, will open at 6 p.m this year.

Not to be outdone, Kmart said it would open its doors at 6 a.m. on the morning of Thanksgiving and stay open for 41 straight hours until 11 p.m. the next day.

Kmart’s corporate sister, Sears, is going a little less hard core. It won’t open until 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. And of course, the opening of big anchor tenants on Thanksgiving encourages smaller adjacent retailers and landlords to do the same. Those who remain closed risk losing sales and the spillover traffic. So, for example, Simon Property Group, the giant mall company, this year for the first time said it would open some of its malls on Thanksgiving, giving tenants the opportunity to ring up some sales on what had been a dark day. (Employees are less than pleased.)

In today’s climate, it’s difficult for companies to resist. With everybody who is anybody in retailing opening on Thanksgiving, Walmart is seeking to get even more of a leg up on its competition.

“Holiday shoppers don’t have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for deals at Walmart,” the company announced on Tuesday. “At 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, Walmart will kick off a pre-Black Friday savings event in stores and online, lowering the prices on popular toys and electronics, to match select Black Friday offers from Target, Toys R’ Us and Best Buy one week early.” Forget about shopping on Thanksgiving, the nation’s biggest retailer is telling its customers. Real bargain shoppers go out and get their big savings the week before Thanksgiving.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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