November 20, 2018

Central Mass. retailers bracing for Black Friday sales (Telegram & Gazette) »

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For Maggie M. Hubbard, general manager of the JCPenney store at the Mall at Whitney Field in Leominster, it’s all hands on deck for Black Friday holiday shopping.

And this year, with Christmas Eve falling on a Monday, it could also get a little crazy on the long weekend leading up to Christmas Day.

Preparations for the holiday season started at the end of September, with holiday décor on display, more trucks brought in and aisles at full capacity with “everything from the stock room,” said Ms. Hubbard, who has worked for JCPenney for more than a decade and transferred to the Leominster store last year from the North Shore Mall in Peabody, where she worked as assistant manager at JCPenney.

Ms. Hubbard has hired 45 seasonal workers and said she plans to continue hiring through Christmas.

“You can never hire enough people,” she said. “This mall is smaller and quieter, but the mall is a great partner and promotes us on their website.”

Staff is up 40 percent as compared to year-round, she said. With extended hours on Black Friday, JCPenney has its own entrances and will be open 12:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. with numerous holiday shopping promotions planned, including coupon giveaways at the door when the store opens, rebates, beauty deals, and lots of toys up to 50 percent off, she said.

Additionally, the store is promoting online shopping, including “buy online, pickup in store” and “ship from store” options with Black Friday deals offered Sunday (Nov. 18) and Wednesday.

Ms. Hubbard said her store is ready and she is hopeful for a good season.

Ana Serafin Smith, senior director of media relations for the National Retail Federation, said stores like JCPenney that offer online deals that customers can pick up in the store typically see shoppers’ carts double in size before leaving the store when picking up their items.

“It is all about bringing customers the best experience possible on every platform they are engaged in with retailers, including when they just buy online and pick up in the store when they have time,” Ms. Serafin Smith said. “In a recent study, 72 percent of consumers who take advantage of those deals end up doubling their basket size by the time they walk out of the store. It is a great motivator for a retailer.”

This year the NRF is forecasting an increase in sales nationally up to $720 billion in November and December, including online sales, a 4.8 increase in sales over last year, she said.

For retailers, the holiday season overall is the “Super Bowl” for two months, she said, and Thanksgiving weekend is the halftime show when retailers put out all their promotions, bells and whistles, and go over the top to see what works.

“Black Friday is now seen as a five-day shopping period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday,” she said. “It is a combination of online shopping and in store. On Thanksgiving, people may need a break from intense conversations around the dinner table and go online to shop and then shoppers go into the stores later for door busters. We see a good mix of both on Black Friday.”

If certain items do not move off the shelves during those five days of shopping, she said, retailers reset and refocus to close out the year with a bang.

“The holiday season is the No. 1 shopping period with retailers making 20 to 30 percent of their entire revenue for the year, so they need to be successful and close out the year strong,” she said.

Though Black Friday is still an important day when retailers see significant volume in sales, there are also big shopping days on the weekend before Christmas, she said, when retailers see a marked increase in sales. It is mostly men, she said.

“They are the No. 1 procrastinators in the nation when it comes to holiday shopping,” she said. “If you go to the store that weekend, it is mostly men in the malls and stores, than women. My husband is guilty as well.”

Many retailers started preparing for the season with promotions as early as Nov. 1, she said, including Macy’s, and Walmart has hosted in-store events the last few weeks to get consumers to come in and play with the new top toys of the season.

Christopher Bastien, area mall manager for the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlboro, said in response to customer demand, the Solomon Pond Mall will offer extended hours from 12:30 a.m. through 9 p.m. on Black Friday.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, 84 percent of adults in the U.S. will visit a shopping center throughout the holidays.

“This is always an exciting time of year for Solomon Pond Mall and we are optimistic for a busy Black Friday weekend and holiday shopping season overall,” Mr. Bastien said. “Traffic has been very busy this fall, which is a good indication of a busy holiday season ahead. We look forward to sharing our comfortable, climate-controlled and inviting atmosphere with our shoppers to take advantage of great holiday deals.”

Consumers are still focusing on finding savings whenever possible, he said, and retailers are offering great sales and promotions online and in stores.

Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said holiday season sales are expected to rise 3.8 percent this year in Massachusetts.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents 4,000 retail sector employers of all sizes and types, is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

“It is a great calendar year for this industry with five weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “And, there is a great, long weekend with Christmas Eve falling on Monday. It is going to be a gang-buster weekend that will well surpass Thanksgiving weekend with the level of consumer confidence the highest in 18 years, low unemployment, increasing wages and lower gas prices. There are a lot of positives happening.”

Consumers are 70 percent of the economy, he said, and when consumers do well, they reinvest in the economy – important for Main streets, retail jobs and the overall industry this holiday season.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts is expecting 17 percent of all holiday gift giving purchases to be done on the internet, he said. Over the last decade, retailers have seen a double-digit percentage increase in internet sales and lower single-digit increases in their brick-and-mortar stores, he said.

“You have to be in both places to service customers and make it as easy to buy from you as possible,” he said. “You need to have that brick-and-mortar, but also marketing yourself online.”

Though online shopping continues to grow, Mr. Hurst said he believes retailers may be reaching a “point of equilibrium.”

“Retailers had to adapt and in many cases look at cutting costs by reducing square footage and overhead,” he said. “But, a lot of consumers want to feel, look, touch, and browse as part of their shopping experience. It is important for most consumers and we’re finding it is important for millennials, too, who view shopping as entertainment and a social event. That is encouraging for stores.”

Black Friday isn’t just a boon for big-box and e-retailers, it’s also the No. 1 sales day of the year for small businesses in Massachusetts, according to the data science team at Womply, a small business software company that analyzed transaction data from thousands of small, independent retailers in all 50 states during the 2017 holiday season. Womply said they made some surprising discoveries about the financial impact the holidays have on local businesses in Massachusetts.

Dan Lalli, communications specialist for Womply, said the holiday season study for Massachusetts is part of the company’s comprehensive State of Local Retail Report, which analyzes transactions at 54,000 local, independent retailers in the U.S. for every day of 2017 to uncover retail trends nationally and in all 50 states and predict what might happen this year.

Key findings for local retailers in Massachusetts in the study include: Massachusetts retailers make 21.5 percent of their total yearly revenue during the holiday season, ranking them No. 6 in the top half nationally for sales volume during that period; Black Friday is the best revenue day of the year, with retailers seeing a 136 percent increase in sales over the average day, ranking them No. 6 nationally for sales on that day; and all of the top five sales days and the top three sales weeks of the year come between Black Friday and the last Saturday before Christmas.

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