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Black Friday grows longer but impact appears to be shrinking

PHudgins DeMotte clicks her car horn locate her car after getting Black Friday shopping done Toys R Us Merrillville Ind.

Pat Hudgins of DeMotte clicks her car horn to locate her car after getting Black Friday shopping done at the Toys R Us in Merrillville, Ind. Friday November 23, 2012. Black Friday shoppers started very early Friday morning, some even Thanksgiving night, but Hudgins said she started at the more reasonable time of 8 a.m. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 25, 2012 6:24AM



CHICAGO — Yes, Black Friday shopping is now woven into the national culture and it’s overshadowing the relatively relaxed Thanksgiving holiday. But just as the phenomenon seems to get larger, it’s strangely getting smaller.

For all the reports of people lined up in the chill and jostling each other for goods that remained safely on the shelves just a couple days ago, Black Friday’s role in the year-end shopping blowout is slipping.

The National Retail Federation projects that 147 million people will shop from Friday through Sunday, down from 152 million people from last year’s three-day Thanksgiving weekend.

The average shopper this weekend was still expected to spend slightly more money compared with last year, by the federation’s reckoning. It also estimates that total retail sales for November and December will be $586.1 billion, up 4.1 percent from a year ago.

So spending is still there, but retailers have expanded the season for getting it. At Sears and Kmart stores, for example, a “shop your way” online program began offering extras rewards last Sunday for people who order online and pick up the item at a store, said Ron Boire, executive vice president at Sears Holdings Corp.

Boire said the promotion spread out the holiday rush at its stores throughout the week. Sears stores still opened at 8 p.m. Thursday to catch the early birds. By Friday the aisles were busy but not frantic, Boire said.

“It was a different kind of shopper, more relaxed,” he said. But he added that “there’s no doubt that consumers are stressed out given the high levels of unemployment and, perhaps more importantly, underemployment.”

Also changing the retail landscape is technology. Each year, more people are accustomed to ordering online and using Internet tools to shop for the best deals.

Merchants stepped up their online promotions for the weekend and Cyber Monday, the term for the first Monday after Thanksgiving. That’s when an estimated 72 million people return to their work computer and use the generous bandwidths to order gifts, despite the cost in worker productivity.

A survey by BIGinsight found that 97 percent of online merchants planned promotions for sometime during Thanksgiving weekend vs. 90 percent last year. A record 85 percent said they have deals on Cyber Monday.

The incentives typically start with free shipping.

The retail federation has its own web site, CyberMonday.com, as a clearinghouse for the offers. The site also will offer, in Groupon-like fashion, “deals of the hour” through Monday.

For the brick-and-mortar stores, longer hours are a way to fight the battle for market share. Retail analysts say physical stores have an advantage over the cyber competition: When they promote an item by selling it at a loss, it draws shoppers who will buy other things. For online stores, shoppers stop with the single purchase.

Big-box stores such as Walmart and Toys ’R Us led the Black Friday creep into Thanksgiving by opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, despite criticism from some employees and patrons.

It’s not known how many people took advantage of the Thursday hours, but a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs found 17 percent of 1,000 people questioned would do so.

As for Black Friday, 33 percent in the survey said they would shop that day, vs. 34 percent last year.

There was early evidence that the Thursday rush reduced business on Friday. Deloitte retail analyst Ramesh Swamy told Reuters, “People seemed to be shopping quite a bit, although in talking to mall management, it seemed that traffic was not as busy as last year.”



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