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Black Friday Isn’t Dead, Just Different

The crush of Midnight Madness may be easing according to new findings and observations of consumer and retailer behavior.

“Hundreds of doorbusters & 1000s of deals!” proclaims a promoted tweet from the discount chain Target.

Is anyone listening to these Black Friday promises of bountiful discounts and a bevy of items to gift for the holidays?

Perhaps not. Stores are currently engaged in a heated battle of one-upmanship (Target opens at 6p.m. on Thanksgiving while stores such as Big Lots are staying open all day beginning at 7 a.m.) before the last forkful of turkey has been consumed. Others are being forced to follow suit whether they like it or not. Small retailers at a mall in Buffalo, New York need to open their doors by 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day (a full six hours before the traditional midnight madness) or potentially get fined by the mall’s owners. But a recent survey from RetailMeNot with The Omnibus Company revealed that all that may be for naught.

Their survey found that nearly half (46%) of consumers plan to start their holiday shopping before November this year, and 1 in 4 intend to have their holiday shopping completely finished by Black Friday.

Rather than declare Black Friday dead on arrival, the survey’s findings suggest that while it may no longer be the definitive day to shop, RetailMeNot’s senior lifestyle editor Trae Bodge says, “Where Black Friday used to be the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, it’s now close to the finish line for many consumers who’ve started taking advantage of deals earlier in the season and throughout the year.”

Bodge points out that the “Five Days of Savings” between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, “still represents a meaningful part of the holiday shopping season, both in-store and online, as we see retailers continue to deepen their discounts on RetailMeNot during this period.”

Observing this shift in shopper’s behavior in the last two years, Bodge says she is seeing some other changes.

Retailers will stagger deals and offer promotions that encourage online shoppin to create a sense of excitement and prevent in-store bottlenecks on busy shopping days, Bodge says. This will spill over into the rest of the season as it helps retailers avoid filling last-minute shipping orders. Some are also providing delivery alternatives like in-store pickup.

Target started back on November 10th by offering one-day early access to Black Friday deals online that could be picked up in stores. For smaller retailers such as the Boston-based boutique UsTrendy, running a “Countdown Sale” to provide additional discounts and sales incentives during the days leading up to Friday, just makes good fiscal sense. “Our operating costs continue to rise throughout the year so we try to create additional revenue opportunities by starting our holiday shopping season up to 5 days earlier,” UsTrendy founder and CEO Sam Sisakhti said in a statement. “Macy’s and Sears really started this trend and competitors were forced to follow their lead.”

Speaking of competition, Bodge says more retailers will offer price matching against online and brick-and-mortar competitors and some will even guarantee product availability if the purchase is made during a specific time frame.

Bodge says that offers will be made available in a variety of ways including email, mobile, social and print, capturing customers wherever they are. This lean toward omni-channel engagement and sales has been growing in the past three years as brands attempt to turn any interaction into a sale –or a platform for customer service.

The RetailMeNot study found that 23% of consumers said they want a more seamless experience between their in-store and online shopping activities. Findings from Verizon Wireless and KRC Research indicate that more than half of consumers (59%) surveyed say they used a smartphone to facilitate shopping on Black Friday.

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