A look at Black Friday

NEW YORK Typically a retailer’s paradise, Black Friday is a time for retailers to gain momentum during the holiday season. But the slumping economy may be a sign of dark times ahead, keeping consumers away from their holiday shopping destinations.

Said National Retail Foundation president and CEO Tracy Mullin, “While last holiday season was filled with chaotic confusion, adjusting to uncertainty has now become routine for many Americans. This holiday season will be a bit of a dance between retailers and shoppers, with each group feeling the other out to understand how things have changed and how they must adapt.”

She’s not the only one that thinks so, either. The Conference Board earlier this week predicted an average of $20 less in spending for holiday shopping. That may seem like pocket change, but put a price tag on every shopper and the numbers add up to trouble.

Meanwhile, NRF polled Americans about their specific Black Friday shopping intentions. According to the survey, discount and department stores will be the biggest attractions for consumers this weekend with 66.3% and 62.4%, respectively, planning on heading to their favorite big box store. In addition, 41% will shop at electronics stores, 36.3% will head to a clothing and clothing accessories store and 28.8% said they would shop at a grocery store. As an increased number of retailers offer special Black Friday promotions on their Web sites, more than one-quarter (27.6%) will shop online. What's more: 55% will be shopping for sales more often than last year, while 40% will be using more coupons than previously.

Additionally, a survey by Persuadable Research for online shopping guide Dealnews.com found just 46% of respondents plan to “definitely” shop on Black Friday this year, a 12% drop from those scavenged for gifts in 2008.

“Consumers may be encouraged by improving economic conditions, but they may also need an incentive to increase their spending,” said Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and Deloitte’s Retail leader. “The intersection of the holiday season with these signs of recovery may provide that motivation. Retailers should consider improving the service offerings that appeal to consumers’ modified and judicious spending habits. These may include layaway plans, mobile commerce capabilities, exclusive limited-time offers and customer interaction via social media. Promotions that tie charitable contributions to purchases may also appeal to customers looking to bring a more meaningful element into their holiday activities.”

Mobile commerce capabilities, as Janiak pointed out, may be a customer’s greatest ally during Black Friday. Chaos and crises are averted and give way to profit. For instance, such retailers as Walgreens recently overhauled its Web site to integrate new products and services. Such items as holiday cards and toys can be purchased with a click of a button without waiting on a line (Cyber Monday was made for that, but more on that at another time).

There is, however, a silver lining for retailers: As of Nov. 13, Deloitte reported that the Consumer Spending Index was up for the fifth consecutive month to over 4%.

So what does this mean? Black Friday may not spell impending doom for retailers, despite pessimistic reports from market analysts, but retailers shouldn’t expect stampedes as years past.

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