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Bigger hopes, earlier hours, more technology at play this Black Friday

Joliet resident George Rodriguez (center) Plainfield resident Zeke Irachet(right) talk as they wait outside Best Buy for Black Friday deals

Joliet resident George Rodriguez (center) and Plainfield resident Zeke Iracheta (right) talk as they wait outside Best Buy for Black Friday deals Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at 3351 Mall Loop Drive in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:05AM



Tensions are at a new high this Thanksgiving as consumers cautiously open their wallets, snap open their digital devices and browse store aisles for deals, while retailers ratchet up the intensity with earlier-than-ever Thanksgiving night doorbuster sales and price-matching offers.

Small businesses are getting into the act, too, using a new supply of apps and technology tools to appeal to shoppers’ consciences to support local merchants and, in some cases, locally sourced goods at the kick off of the holiday shopping season.

Traditional gifts endure, however, with doorbuster sales on sweaters, electronic games and colorful scarves.

“Part of what is disturbing is that merchants are encroaching on one of the best and most pure of American holidays,” said Paco Underhill, a New York-based researcher, shopping anthropologist and author of “What Women Want — The Science of Female Shopping.”

Underhill blames retailers having “a certain edge of anxiety” about people’s distractions with the presidential election and bad weather, including Hurricane Sandy. This year also marks the earliest Thanksgiving in five years.

“Retailers’ expectations and needs for this holiday to be better are exaggerated,” he said.

Sears, Kmart, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart are among retailers that will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night, while Target will open at 9 p.m.

One of the ironies of the holiday shopping season is that Americans have too many places to shop — experts call it being “over-stored” — while they brag about how little they spend each time they shop. The cultural phenomenon reflects both product commoditization and people coveting goods they cannot afford, Underhill said.

At the same time, mostly female shoppers are turning back to timeless style and value, and are making fewer purchases of better goods, Underhill said.

While retailers are starting the sales earlier, fewer shoppers are expected to come out.

The National Retail Federation says up to 147 million people plan to shop this Black Friday weekend, a 3.3 percent decrease from the 152 million who planned to do so last year.

The survey showed 71 million said they would shop Black Friday and another 76 million said they would wait and see what retailers have in-store that weekend, the National Retail Federation reported.

But the federation predicts the average shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other items, up 1.2 percent from last year.

The federation predicts overall holiday spending in November and December will jump 4.1 percent from last year, to $586.1 billion.

Technology will play an increasingly important role, both among shoppers comparing store price tags with online prices on their mobile devices, and as salespeople armed with iPads help shoppers avoid lines by swiping their mobile devices or payment systems to make a quick exit.

The National Retail Federation’s survey shows more shoppers than ever will use smartphones to compare prices. More than half (52.9 percent) of smartphone owners, compared with 52.6 percent last year, will do so. Of tablet owners, 64.1 percent will use their devices to research and buy holiday gifts, decor, food and other items, down slightly from last year’s 70.5 percent.

Shoppers will set two new highs shopping online, with 51.8 percent planning to shop online, up from 46.7 percent last year, and the average person doing 38.8 percent of their holiday shopping online versus 36 percent last year.

Chicago shoppers who shop online, in stores and on their smartphones plan to spend $1,650 this holiday, or 79 percent more than those who shop only in stores, according to the Deloitte survey.

IBISWorld expects spending for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday to jump, with Cyber Monday achieving a record-setting $1.5 billion in online revenues, up 21.4 percent from last year.

Shoppers are expected to push online sales this holiday to 16 percent of the total $586 billion in overall sales, according to Forrester Research.

Retailers are targeting shoppers who spend the most by shopping online and inside stores. About a third of retailers told Shop.org’s eHoliday survey they will promote their in-store Black Friday deals with mobile alerts, up significantly from the 18.4 percent who planned to do so last year. Eight in 10, or 80.6 percent, will use Facebook to alert shoppers about in-store deals, up from 73.7 percent last year, the survey showed.



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