Sun, Nov 25, 2012 - Page 13 News List

Shoppers in US welcome early ‘Black Friday’

EARLY BIRDS:Instead of braving a 6am Friday crush, shoppers delighted in stores already opening their doors on Thanksgiving Thursday, turning it into a family event

Reuters, NEW YORK and BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota

US retailers declared their experiment with earlier store openings to start the holiday shopping season a success on Friday, with those new hours expected to be a Thanksgiving night staple for more retailers next year.

Stores such as Target Corp opened hours before midnight on Thursday to try to capture a bigger piece of the retail pie. The move seemed to bring out a different type of shopper than the usual one who grabs the “Black Friday” deals, analysts said.

That meant by Friday morning, some shoppers, like Christian Alcantara, 18, at a J.C. Penney store in Queens, New York, had already made a lot of their purchases. J.C. Penney stuck to a more traditional 6am Friday opening.

“They should open earlier. I’ve been everywhere else and I’ve already shopped,” Alcantara said.

Shoppers are likely to force holdouts like J.C. Penney to move their post-Thanksgiving sales into Thursday night next year, said Liz Ebert, retail head at consulting firm KPMG LLP.

“There will be pressure on them. There’ll be an expansion of it next year,” Ebert said.

Hard data on “Black Friday” store traffic will not come in until this weekend. However, analysts said retailers who opened early brought in a non-traditional Black Friday shopper, with more families coming in together and buying more than just the “doorbuster” sale items.

“I’ve never seen parents bring so many kids on Black Friday,” Toys R Us chief executive Jerry Storch said.

The National Retail Federation expects sales during this month and next month to rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year’s 5.6 percent increase. That made store operators’ strategy important as they battled each other, rather than seeing a growing pie in a season when US retailers can make a third of their annual sales and 40 percent to 50 percent of their profits.

“Retailers want them to buy now, they want to get that share of wallet early,” said Michael Appel, a director at consulting firm AlixPartners.

He noticed that the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York, was busy from midnight to 3am, but that traffic, while still brisk, was less heavy by mid-morning.

Shoppers used smartphones and tablets and a lot of research as they hit stores, a mobile phenomenon that started last year and seemed to be more prevalent this year.

Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist and a senior executive adviser with Booz & Company’s Retail, was waiting in line with one woman in Phoenix, who was shopping for a refrigerator. Using her mobile device, she found the appliance online for the same price and left the store without. She intended to buy it online instead.

“There’s a fundamental transformation of shopping,” Blischok said.

Mobile devices account for 45 percent of walmart.com traffic and online traffic coming from Walmart’s mobile app was three times bigger than last year, Walmart.com CEO Joel Anderson said. Overall, online sales were up 20 percent against the same period last year, through 3pm on Friday, IBM said.

The National Retail Federation said 147 million people would shop from Friday through today, when deals are at their most eye-catching — down from 152 million the same weekend last year.

The federation’s estimate did not account for Thursday shoppers and anecdotal evidence suggested retailers opening earlier may have cut into traffic on “Black Friday,” the traditional start of the holiday season that denotes the point when retailers in the past would turn a profit for the year.

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