With Black Friday deals starting the Monday before or earlier, is it even proper to call it Black “Friday” any longer?
The annual shopping extravaganza that had led to long, cold lines outside stores and the occasional brawl over the must-have toy inside has evolved into an amorphous blob of holiday sales for days and weeks – most of which can be done online.
Take Walmart, still the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer. A company representative confirmed that nearly every deal advertised for Black Friday can be found online at the same time. One of the few things you might only find in stores? DVDs.
Still, experts say “Black Friday” isn’t going away; it’s just … different. And, for some, it remains nostalgic.
Mahesh Gopinath still remembers his first. He woke up early, sipped coffee, then headed out into the cold to wait in a growing line formed outside stores. As soon as the doors opened, people made a run for it.
Gopinath, who specializes in consumer psychology at Old Dominion University, believes that even with the rise of Cyber Monday and online shopping, there will still be shoppers making trips in person.
“The trend we’re seeing is more and more people are going online. But if you look at it, on average, people are spending more dollars when they’re shopping in stores,” Gopinath said. “When you go to a store, you don’t pick up one product and walk away.”
Although the shopping frenzy on the day has decreased, Gopinath said he believes it’s just the result of shopping deals being spread out before Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. Retailers try to outdo each other with sales, and shoppers can track deals with apps. But there’s still a group of people who will show up at a store’s doors at the crack of dawn.
“It’s a pre-online-era excitement,” Gopinath said. “Those people will continue to do it as long as they’re around.”
Lawrence Ring, a professor with the College of William & Mary’s business school in Williamsburg, has a guess for who you might see Friday: “You’ll see a whole bunch of people in the store on their cell phones. They’re shopping.”
He said the days tend to all sort of bleed together.
There’s Thanksgiving night, Black Friday, the American Express-sponsored Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. There’s even a Museum Store Sunday, when museum gift shops offer perks for shopping that day, including Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum. It will ply shoppers with mimosas and chances to win prizes for customers who spend at least $75.
Malls like Military Circle in Norfolk, which is largely filled with smaller retailers, are promoting small business Saturday as well as Black Friday.
“I don’t think it’s dying,” Ring said of the day after Thanksgiving shopping day. “I just think it’s been supplemented and added to by Cyber Monday.”
The holiday season remains the biggest revenue period for retailers with tight margins. The first 10-plus months pay the bills; December’s sales produce the profit.
A survey by Womply, which sells software services to small businesses, said they observed 1,604 small retailers in Virginia doing a lot of transactions each day and determined that Black Friday, not small business Saturday, was the biggest revenue day for them, too. Saturday? It was just the 22nd-best day of the year. On an average day, a small business might make $1,471 in revenue, according to the company’s study. But Black Friday was worth $3,079.
One of those people spending at a small business on Friday will be Alexander Grosby.
“I’ll only be going to AFK Books & Records for special vinyl releases,” he said of the Virginia Beach store. He’ll be flipping through records to find special Phish, Dave Matthews Band and Grateful Dead albums.
Not too surprising, the top three revenue-producing weeks for Virginia’s small retailers were between Nov. 26 and Dec. 23. Cyber Monday? It ranked 156th out of 365 days.
Who likely won’t be shopping Black Friday either in person or from the comfort of their couch? So-called “wise consumers” says Michael Luchs, who is a consumer psychologist at the College of William & Mary’s business school and has studied the shoppers for the last two years.
“The wise consumer would step back and say, ‘Did I need that thing in the first place?’ ”
He said these shoppers are different from minimalists of the past who might avoid shopping altogether if they could.
“They’re not trying to escape the market. They’re not trying to shun the market,” he said, adding that if they need something, they might be more inclined to borrow it first.
He has interviewed thousands of people and he gathers they’d take a pass on Black Friday entirely. “They tend to be more thoughtful about their lifestyle choices. They’re also doubtful about the benefits of it.”
When these “one-time” deals get extended for days, they lose their relevance, leaving confused customers to wonder if they’re really getting a good deal.
“It’s such a moving target,” he said of differing sales by store, suppliers and manufacturers.
For retailers, encouraging people to browse in stores comes down, in large part, to selling an experience at the same time.
This year, MacArthur Center mall in downtown Norfolk is encouraging #BFFs (best friends forever) to shop together for “Best Friend Friday” and be the first 500 to get a swag-filled tote bag.
“The big shift in retail is for things to be experience-based,” said mall spokeswoman Karen Husselbee. You can shop and then get a coffee, shop and then get a photo, shop and then go ice skating outside, she said.
“My gut is that we’re going to have a really busy holiday season,” she said.
Even Chesapeake Square Mall, which has suffered large vacancies over the years and is now under new ownership, is promising a visit from Santa, extended hours and pop-up shops inside to attract in-person visits on Friday.
Norfolk’s Military Circle Mall will be throwing cash at its shoppers – literally. A money machine, which blows $2,000 in bills inside a contained area, will be making its third appearance at the mall for Black Friday.
“The money machine has been a good draw for us,” said Military Circle Marketing Coordinator Anita Jefferson.
Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake is bringing back a DJ to play music starting at 9 a.m. and raffling off a designer Michael Kors purse.
“Anything we can do to keep shoppers around any longer,” said Tori Dean, marketing director for Greenbrier.