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[23 comments]

Gray Thursday, Black Friday - It's All Green at Retail

November 26, 2012

Black Friday came early this year — on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. for many shoppers to be exact — with Thanksgiving shopping expected to become part of the holiday shopping tradition in coming years.

According to a National Retail Federation survey conducted by BIGinsight, more than 35 million Americans visited retailers' stores and websites Thursday, up from 29 million last year. Twenty-eight percent of weekend shoppers were at the stores by midnight on Black Friday, compared to 24.4 percent last year.

The Thanksgiving night openings from Walmart, Target, Toys "R" Us, Sears and others may have taken some sales away from Black Friday results. But traffic was still reported to be up on Black Friday as the Thursday openings helped smooth traffic over the weekend.

"By opening even earlier, the retailers have been able to attract a broader spectrum of consumers to participate in Black Friday — not everyone is willing to wake up at 4 a.m.," Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, told CNN Money. "They definitely got a lot more business early and upfront."

While Thanksgiving shopping got all the attention, more stores having multiple doorbuster sales at different times helped drive steady traffic over the weekend. In some cases, doorbuster deals supported Sunday traffic.

Total Black Friday weekend spending online and in store reached an estimated $59.1 billion, up 12.7 percent from $5.24 million, according to a NRF survey.

Walmart stated that 22 million consumers entered their stores on Thursday alone, and that Black Friday crowds had already exceeded the number from 2011 by the early afternoon hours on the East Coast. Walmart's Black Friday plan included three events at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Thursday, with one at 5 a.m. on Friday. During the high traffic period from 8 p.m. through midnight, Walmart processed nearly 10 million register transactions and almost 5,000 items per second.

"We had very safe and successful Black Friday events at our stores across the country and heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers," said Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:WMT] [NYSE:TGT]

Discussion Questions:

How do think the early openings and staggered specials supported Black Friday weekend? What did you think worked and didn't work this weekend based on your personal observations?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How would you grade retailers' efforts for this year's Black Friday weekend?

Comments:

I have no kind words for any retailer who opened on Thanksgiving. As far as I can tell, and what the early data is telling us is that it caused 2 things: 1) it spread 1 day of sales over 2 days, and 2) it drove more shopping online, because it's a lot easier to take 10 minutes out from dinner to buy something than go stand on line.

I did not go out on Thursday (my dedication to the industry goes just so far. I love Thanksgiving!). I did go out on Friday at around 1, and drove around Miami until 4:30. What I saw consistently was those who opened on Thursday had far less traffic than those who opened at midnight or early Friday morning.

The other unspoken issue here is employee dissatisfaction with having to work the holiday (it was not voluntary). I wonder if we'll see more unionization efforts over the coming year as a result.

I have no other way to say "bad move" than to just say it over and over again. Bad move.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

I am not a supporter of retailers opening Thursday night. But my voice will never be heard as long as the cash register is ringing. That is what the reports are saying. So the C level execs are sitting smuggly in their paneled offices saying screw the employees; the public has spoken.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Maybe it was the early openings or staggered specials or more consumers buying online, but I noticed fewer shoppers at our local mall on Saturday. My son, who works at one of the retailers in that mall, reported light enough traffic on Friday morning that his supervisor had him leave at 3 a.m. rather than 4 a.m. At least he did not have to report for work on Thanksgiving day.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

As with all things promotional, these events tend to evolve as consumers adjust and learn how to manipulate them to their advantage. While "door buster" items are still very popular for those willing to buy a tent and bring provisions to live outside the store days in advance of the sale, retailers are finding some additional magic with staging mini-events over the entire four day Thanksgiving weekend.

These mini-events provide shoppers that are not inclined to camp out in front of stores, a second and third chance at good deals and the full baskets that often accompany a trip to the store.

Online events are also evolving, providing the less motivated, more sedentary shopper, like me, an opportunity to participate in the savings, and more importantly become more comfortable with shopping the retailer's offering online, which is always a good thing for the retailer who wants to grow sales across all channels.

Going forward, I think you may see less emphasis on one time "door buster" events and more staged events over longer periods of time. It's all about maximizing sales and increasing the shopper's familiarity with the retailer's offerings in the process.

Happy Cyber Monday to all!

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Mark Heckman, Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting

Well, as crazy as all this holiday shopping evolution seems to me, I know of many people who actually got up from their Thanksgiving dinners to go shopping Thursday night. Our 17-year-old daughter and her friend went shopping late night both Thursday and Friday (violating curfew, by the way! Hoodlums!) and told me that the vast majority of shoppers were mature (in age only!) adults, as opposed to Milliennials. For some reason that surprised me a bit. I guess I was just hoping people my age could relax and let their dinners digest...until 4 a.m. or something!

Once one retailer makes the move to open early, of course all others have to follow, just to hope to maintain their share of market. I think getting the word out clearly to the public on when your stores are opening went well for most big chains. Whether any incremental sales took place, rather than the simple redistribution across more time, will have to be analyzed in the end.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Typically I support all things that please the shopper. But on Thanksgiving day, the retail industry should NOT force workers to give up time with family and work.

Shoppers can have a demanding voice, but the industry needs to draw a line in the sand.

My line in the sand is to go on vacation (at the beach) for the holiday week, and aside from one gift order of a big item on Amazon, shopping can wait. Family is first.

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Anne Howe, Senior Vice President, Shopper Solutions, part of Acosta Mosaic Group

In my opinion, Fry's Electronic was the biggest winner by promoting a click and bricks "Avoid the Black Friday Lines" where customers can order online on Thursday and pick up the items on Black Friday...no line, no grabs, no waits, real-time big data to move inventory where needed, and the employees can stay home for Thanksgiving to be with their family.

Walmart was surprisingly effective. Walmart created triages where a customer has to receive a ticket to stand in the holding area to receive a doorbuster product. This eliminated the chaotic activities seen on YouTube videos and Walmart learned their lesson.

Target, Toys "R" Us and Best Buy didn't work for me -- still the same long line waiting outside for hours in the cold and rushing in to grab something in a chaotic manner.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

The sales result estimates for the entire weekend show significant upside over last year. Extra shopping times and hours had to have been a positive contributor. Shoppers who had to work on Friday could shop Thursday night and in the wee hours of Friday morning. I'm not saying it is right, but at least for this year it appears to have been effective.

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

The ShopperTrak article (reporting a drop in Black Friday sales) misses the point: The early hours on Thursday, added Saturday doorbusters and cyber-specials probably means that the overall numbers were healthy last weekend. Hopefully stores reporting November comp sales soon will add some flavor to their commentary, because Hurricane Sandy is likely to depress results earlier in the month. It will also be worth noting whether shoppers focused on electronics and toys (as usual) or spent more than last year on apparel and other discretionary categories.

The shift from "Cyber Monday" to "Cyber Week" is another indication that retailers are capturing business when they can -- and when the consumer wants to shop -- not necessarily remaining fixated on "the way things were" ten years ago.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

I am happy to say I enjoyed the full Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. No thoughts about emails, shopping or special savings at retail. Unfortunately, my protest of shopping on Thanksgiving was not reflected in the success of retailers that opened early including Sears, Target and Walmart. My guess is this trend will continue to be pushed and next year you can expect retailers will open even earlier on Thanksgiving.

Personal observations: I visited several stores on Black Friday to get a feel for in store traffic, associate help and overall customer experience. What I found were busy, but under control stores that were well staffed and helpful. Shelves and floors were neat to my surprise. Although many of the "doorbusters" deals were sold out there were plenty of great buys between noon and 5 p.m.

What worked: Spreading out the savings with multiple deals over the weekend is a great move and worked well for Ace Hardware this year. They provided three special savings coupons that were good for one day (Friday, Saturday or Sunday). This gave consumers the entire weekend to find a deal. It also spread out the shopping allowing associates to better manage the customer experience.

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John Boccuzzi, Jr., Managing Partner, Boccuzzi, LLC

Shoppers had a lot of choices last weekend and millions took advantage of the staggered openings and door busters! The main downside though is that while opening on Thanksgiving Day, retailers are certainly giving shoppers more options, this extended shopping is coming at a high personal cost on their employees and families.

Walmart's one hour in-stock guarantee of selected electronics created excitement and foot traffic in the stores as did their 'planned events' on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. A trend to watch is the online share of the weekend's shopper spending ($423) - according to NRF's blog, this portion was 40.7%, up from last year's 37.8 %.

According to comScore, the top five retail websites visited were Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and Apple in that order. Retailers are getting serious about serving the multichannel shopper and those shoppers are spending more per visit in year-over-year comparisons. It's interesting that Thanksgiving Day's online sales had a huge 32% increase from last year, showing the convenience of doing their holiday shopping AND staying home with family! Hey, Cyber Monday/Week is here!

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

Overall, this weekend appears to have been good for sales. Determining why is a challenge. Did consumers get out to shop because of increased publicity, because staggered times allowed them to purchase what they wanted at different stores, because they were planning to purchase more this year, or because early opening times were more convenient? Any or all of theses reasons may have had some impact.

I did not go out until Friday afternoon and was expecting long lines getting into and out of the mall and filled parking lots. To my surprise I passed several shopping center parking lots that were not full, had no line getting the mall, and easily found a close parking spot. I was wondering whether people came out early and were finished by then.

From the data presented here, increased sales are likely to support the early openings and sales. Soon there will be a black week not just a black Friday. Maybe the whole concept will disappear.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Consumers are voting with their feet and their money. Retail is extremely competitive and this time of year is high stakes.

I am not quite sure why there's such a visceral reaction to retail employees having to work on Thanksgiving. There are lots of professions where people work on Thanksgiving. Should we all be turning off our TVs so the poor athletes, camera people, and media organizations can be at home with their families?

It's okay to feel a sense of loss for the "traditional" Thanksgiving Holiday, but let's not kid ourselves -- shopping is becoming as much of a tradition at Thanksgiving as turkey and football. In fact, it seems that getting out and running around shopping at least gets our increasingly obese population off the couch and physically active during one of the biggest days of the year for caloric intake.

Paul R. Schottmiller, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Retail and Consumer Goods, Merkle

What if retailers joined forces and opened on Thanksgiving around towns, not to sales, but to offer meals and assistance to those in need and gave coupons to anyone volunteering or attending to be redeemed during the holiday season?

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Diana McHenry, Retail Client Partner, SAP for Retail

I am not a fan of opening the stores on Thanksgiving. The traditional early morning opening on Black Friday was fine by me (though I would never participate in such a thing). I understand the early openings, and particularly the staggered specials, benefit the retailers, and once one retailer announces the early openings, all the others must follow. I think the staggered specials were a smart move to drive traffic through the stores throughout the weekend and not just 5:00 a.m.

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

Okay, here goes my rant against the Machine!

The folks who were forced into working on Thanksgiving I feel sorry for, as the greedy BIG BOX STORES simply can not allow anything to stand in their way of getting a leg up on other BIG STORES. Small Business simply is reeling from a downward trend due to the economy, and this makes it even tougher to grow their Christmas sales, as the mobs of people scrape up loss leaders and head home before the downtown areas even know what hit them.

There really is no answer to the craziness of retail, as we just have way too many options to shop today, and price is still king, way more than ever. For those who hold to the traditions of the holiday, I say good for you, but it will never swing back to when things were like the good old days. Retail is not for sissies, but I still miss the sense of local shopping local more than you know!

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

These are great! They only serve to increase awareness, while increasing the "buzz" around buying products now for a great price. This gets the consumer into the "mood" to purchase products and can only positively impact the entire retail experience. This is why our Black Friday weekend is such a good thing for all retailers.

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

I personally avoid Black Friday shopping like Black Death. So I remain mystified as to why so many Americans participate with such competitive intensity.

The competitive intensity of retailers is much easier to grasp. Pushing the launch time up into Thanksgiving afternoon doesn't make wallets any fatter, but the retailer who attracts the biggest, earliest crowds gets first crack at the spending.

It is ultimately worth it? For a few large chains, there are probably some incremental dollars -- or at least some faster dollars -- captured at the expense of weaker merchants. But there are costs too, associated with extra operating hours, as well some justifiable employee resentment.

Positive over-weekend reports from big operators notwithstanding, it remains to be seen whether early holiday events can actually move the needle for the whole shopping season. I'm a skeptic about that, and my heart bleeds a little bit for the retail workers who would rather have been home on Thanksgiving night.

Staggered deals are another story. I think these have potential to generate sustained excitement without hysteria. Two weeks of mini-doorbusters could provide various shoppers with reasons to visit on different days. Does any retailer we know publish a holiday specials calendar? Could be brilliant.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

I didn't have any personal observations as I was working in Australia on Black Friday where the retailers are doing fine there without an "official" start of the holiday. Well they actually tried it this year with Click Frenzy, and if you saw the press it didn't go without some big hiccups.

As mentioned above, it seems that the early openings just spread out the sales over more hours. I do think it effected specialty retailers as I heard there was a little less traffic in the mall. I think some people who shopped early on Thanksgiving night went back home to go to bed rather than moving on to other stores.

It's official. Shopping is now on its way to becoming America's favorite Thanksgiving day sport.

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Doug Fleener, President and Managing Partner, Dynamic Experiences Group

I think it ruined Thanksgiving! O.K., O.K., what's clear to me is that "Black Friday" is no longer, in fact, a day, per se -- it's a state of mind.

What worked -- getting ahead of the crowd.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

The winners were the media -- retailers spent heavy leading up to and through the weekend to drive traffic -- in-store or online. Chicago TV, radio and especially the Tribune inserts were heavy with promotional inserts touting price/item featured goods.

There was nothing innovative in what I observed in the media, nor in-store at Woodfield, nor on Michigan Avenue. Zip, zero, nada.

My in-box was full however and some retailers did a nice job of offering advanced savings as a preferred reward member. Based on my wish list, several retailers then highlighted the items, discounted anywhere from $10 to $50 off or offer 2x or 4x points if I spent over a threshold. Did this move me to buy? The answer -- yes.

My concern is that while sales over the weekend per NRF were up 13%, what is the margin on goods sold? Special buys were driven by sharp merchandising strategies coupled with solid planning to ensure that the flat screens for $199.99 were in stock. But, those who didn't support out-of-stock terms run the risk of negatively impacting CSAT scores. Post holiday, I would highly recommend issuing an out-of-stock make-good to loyalty program members as a benefit AND calling the customer when the item is replenished.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

From a short term business perspective, the Thanksgiving openings by many retailers did two things:
1. Enabled those who want to shop on Thanksgiving the opportunity to do so and by extension,
2. Allowed the overall sales to be spread in a more manageable way with the likely upside of overall higher Thanksgiving weekend sales figures.

From a long term perspective, I agree with several of the comments here indicating concerns with forcing the retailers' employees to sacrifice the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. This just provides one more reason not to trust that the employer cares for the worker and could spur more labor actions.

Or it will all be fine... We'll see....

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Mike Osorio, Senior VP Organizational Change Management, DFS Group

See ... it used to be a day and now it's a weekend ... and soon it will be a whole week!

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

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