Bethany Clough

Retail Therapy: Shoppers should expect a calmer Black Friday experience

Customers walk past Black Friday sale sign on display at the front entrance at the Kohl’s department store on Tuesday, Nov. 24, in north Fresno.
Customers walk past Black Friday sale sign on display at the front entrance at the Kohl’s department store on Tuesday, Nov. 24, in north Fresno. sflores@fresnobee.com

The frenzy is fizzling.

Where Black Fridays of years past had thousands of people lining up outside stores and tense moments inside, things will be less frantic this year.

Why?

Several reasons: The steamrolling of earlier opening times into Thanksgiving Day has stalled. Shoppers have been taking advantage of doorbuster deals for weeks already. More people are shopping online. Even the mall won’t be open 24 hours this year.

Although Thanksgiving and Black Friday are still important shopping days – Black Friday is still the No. 1 shopping day of the season – the experience of shopping will probably be a little calmer this year.

“You can find a parking space on Black Friday, where you couldn’t in the past years – let’s put it that way,” said Jeff Green, a retail consultant with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners.

Thanksgiving openings

The trend of stores opening earlier and earlier each year on Thanksgiving Day is sputtering out. Most are opening at the same time they did last year with many big-box stores at 5 or 6 p.m.

One big exception: JCPenney, which bumped its opening time to 3 p.m. this year, a full two hours earlier than last year.

The outrage on social media about stores keeping workers away from their families on the holiday reached a fever pitch last year.

“I think the backlash took its toll,” Green said.

Stores such as T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls are running commercials touting the fact that their stores are closed on Thanksgiving.

And REI was widely praised last month when it announced it would not only stay closed on Thanksgiving, but would close on Black Friday too. The retailer will pay its 12,000 employees for Friday and is encouraging customers to #OptOutside and go for a hike or a bike ride instead of shopping.

REI is a co-op that answers to members who pay a one-time membership fee, making its mission a bit different from a publicly traded retailer that answers to shareholders.

Many other stores have likely slowed their earlier opening times or are staying closed on Thanksgiving for one main reason: money. As in, it’s not worth it financially to be open all those hours, Green said.

Workers are paid time and half – sometimes more – to work on Thanksgiving. And keeping the lights on and running the store throughout the wee hours of the night is expensive. That means stores must sell lots of sweaters and Star Wars action figures to make it worthwhile.

“When you do a profit and loss (analysis) on those hours, it probably doesn’t make sense to stay open,” he says.

You’ll also see fewer stores and malls open 24 hours from Thanksgiving into Black Friday this year.

Fashion Fair will open at 6 p.m. Thursday, but will close at midnight and reopen at 6 a.m. Friday. Best Buy, Michaels and a few others will close for a few hours early Friday morning too.

The spread out opening times also defuse some of the tension for people lining up outside stores. Where once hundreds upon hundreds of people lined up for Fashion Fair’s midnight opening in years past, just about 70 were in line last year for its 6 p.m. opening as shoppers fanned out to other stores around the city. That trend will likely continue this year. (Fashion Fair typically gets packed later, after 9 p.m. or so.)

Black Friday evolution

The lower-key Black Friday is a change from years past, when stores battled each other for customers, using extreme doorbusters to get people in the door. Before the recession, shoppers came in for doorbusters but also shopped the rest of the store while they were there.

During the recession, shoppers learned to nab the doorbusters, but then left the store, leaving retailers struggling to make much money.

Now, as the economy is recovering and shoppers get even savvier about finding the best deals, staying open 24 hours might not be the best move for some retailers, said Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, which represents malls and other shopping centers.

“That aggressiveness is down,” he said. “You’re also not going to be willing to take a loss or take tiny margins just to do it. You have to make sure it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint.”

Even though Thanksgiving and Black Friday will be calmer, there will be plenty of money spent on those days and throughout the holiday season.

It’s shaping up to be a healthy one with a 3.7 percent increase in November and December to $630.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Plus, many retailers are already reaching customers long before Black Friday. The first “pre-Black Friday” deals started trickling out in late October. By early November, online deals in particular were in full swing.

Nearly 57 percent of shoppers had started their holiday shopping by early November, a number that gets earlier every year, according to the National Retail Federation. (But don’t let that pressure you. Less than 10 percent finish their shopping before December.)

Online shopping is expected to grow too, with 46 percent of shoppers expected to browse or buy online this year, giving shoppers even less reason to brave stores on Black Friday.

All of this means it’s less important – and therefore less competitive – for retailers to get shoppers into the store on Black Friday.

Things are going to be lower key at Walmart stores this year, too. The giant retailer with many stores open 24 hours all year round usually does rolling doorbusters at 6 p.m., 8 p.m. on Thursday and again Friday morning.

But the stores are ditching that pattern this year.

This year, the deals – Walmart isn’t using the term doorbuster – start at 6 p.m. And 95 percent of the in-store deals will also be available online just after midnight Thanksgiving morning – something it didn’t do in years past.

Like most stores nowadays, Walmart uses wristbands for people waiting in line for some popular items to prevent a competitive frenzy. And it’s bringing back its one-hour guarantee on some items. That means that shoppers in the store between 6 and 7 p.m. for those items are guaranteed to get them shipped to them or the store before Christmas even if that particular store runs out on Thanksgiving.

All of it should make for a calmer, slower Black Friday experience.

“We’re really simplifying the shopping experience,” said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia. “Consumer demands and consumer buying patterns are changing and we’re responding.”

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

Store opening times

Thanksgiving

  • Kmart 6 a.m.
  • Big Lots 7 a.m.
  • Forever 21 9 a.m.
  • JCPenney 3 p.m.
  • Michaels 4 p.m.
  • Old Navy 4 p.m.
  • Tillys Marketplace at El Paseo 4 p.m.
  • Best Buy 5 p.m.
  • Stein Mart 5 p.m.
  • Toys R Us 5 p.m.
  • Bath & Body Works River Park 6 p.m.
  • Fashion Fair 6 p.m. - midnight, reopen at 6 a.m. Friday
  • Kohl’s 6 p.m.
  • Macys 6 p.m.
  • Ross 6 p.m.
  • Sears 6 p.m.
  • Target 6 p.m.
  • Visalia Mall 6 p.m.
  • Walmart 6 p.m.
  • Wet Seal, River Park 6 p.m.
  • Kirkland’s 8 p.m.
  • Tulare Outlets 10 p.m.
  • Children’s Place midnight
  • Tilly’s River Park midnight

Black Friday

  • Crazy 8 5 a.m.
  • Big Lots 6 a.m.
  • H&M 6 a.m.
  • JoAnn Fabric & Craft Stores 6 a.m.
  • Pum Bum River Park 6 a.m.
  • Sierra Vista Mall 6 a.m.
  • River Park most stores 6-8 a.m.*
  • Burlington 7 a.m.
  • Buy Buy Baby 7 a.m.
  • Cost Plus 7 a.m.
  • HomeGoods 7 a.m.
  • Lola 7 a.m.
  • Ooh La La 7 a.m.
  • Marshalls 7 a.m.
  • Shabby Abby 7 a.m.
  • Sur La Table 7 a.m.
  • Ann Taylor 8 a.m.
  • Origins River Park 8 a.m.
  • Barnes & Noble 8 a.m.
  • Chico’s River Park 8 a.m.
  • Claire’s River Park 8 a.m.
  • Hobby Lobby 8 a.m.
  • Julia River Park 8 a.m.
  • Maurices 8 a.m.
  • Stella Laguna Beach River Park 8 a.m.
  • Three Graces 8 a.m.
  • Costco 9 a.m.
  • Fig Garden Village 9 a.m.*
  • Dress Barn 9 a.m.
  • Sequoia Mall 9 a.m.

*individual opening times may vary by store

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