For Triangle shoppers, Black Friday pushes into Thursday

Avid shoppers start late Thursday Here’s what you need to know about the holiday season’s top-performing day

adunn@newsobserver.comNovember 20, 2012 

  • Gimmicks galore From free reindeer antlers for your dog to free gift cards, there are Black Friday gimmicks aplenty. Here are a few: J.C. Penney will be giving away 80 million free buttons to Black Friday shoppers for the chance to win 1 million prizes, which include jewelry, appliances, gift certificates and 100 vacations. Belk will be giving away 250 free gift cards per store, ranging in value from $5 to $1,000. A $1,000 winner is guaranteed at each store. One per customer 18 years of age or older. Be among the first in line at Old Navy, and a free Super Mario Bros. U game for the Wii is yours when you make a $40 purchase. The first 100 customers at LifeWay Christian Stores on Friday will be given a free 10-song Christmas CD. Snag a pair of reindeer antlers for your dog at Petco, free with any purchase using your Pals card. Shop smart Smartphone users have the upper hand when it comes to Black Friday. Download the apps for all the retail stores you’ll be visiting. Many will be sending out deal alerts throughout the day. A scanning app such as Red Laser is useful to instantly compare prices on an item you spot on the shelves. An app from one of the popular deal aggregators will help you keep up with the Black Friday frenzy without lugging the circulars into the stores with you. Try BlackFriday.com, BFads.net or TGIBlackFriday.com. And how about a Black Friday app with a twist? Try Scratch Hard, a location-based app that reveals nearby deals when you “scratch” your smartphone screen with a few swipes of your finger. Black Friday for the minimalist If fighting crowds to bring another gadget or gizmo into your home turns you off, here are a couple Black Friday deals for you: Save yourself some cash on the Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles Kids Museum on Black Friday weekend. Normally $45, the IMAX Power Pass will be $40. Pass benefits include free admission to documentaries and $5 tickets to featured films. Purchase the pass on imaxraleigh.org or at the box office. Buy a ticket to the Saturday matinee performances of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Cabaret” at Playmakers in Chapel Hill and get a second ticket for 50 percent off. Call the box office at 919-962-7529 between 8 and noon on Friday and mention the promo code BLACKFRIDAY to get the deal.
  • Who’s open Thursday? Here’s a sampling of the stores that are opening early. If you don’t see a favorite store listed, call the retailer before heading out. Best Buy: Opens at midnight, handing out tickets at 10 p.m. Family Dollar: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Jos. A. Bank: Opens at 10 p.m. Kmart: 6 a.m.-4 pm., re-opens at 8 p.m. Kohl’s: Opens at midnight. Sears: Opens at 8 p.m. Target: Opens at 9 p.m. Toys R Us: Opens at 8 p.m. Walmart: Open 24 hours, deals begin at 8 p.m. Area malls: Several stores – such as Aeropostale, American Eagle, Belk and Macy’s – will open at midnight. Inside: See a list of when malls and outlets open and get Black Friday tips. 11A

Fueled by a mix of caffeine from Starbucks and carbs from Bojangles’, Carrie Roberson executes her Black Friday shopping strategy with military precision.

Up by 2 a.m., 3 a.m. at the latest, and the mission completed by 8 a.m. – all but the unloading of the heavily discounted merchandise.

Missing out on the intoxicating mix of rock-bottom prices in the wee hours of the early morning is unthinkable to Roberson, a 25-year-old Raleigh resident and therapist.

“I like the pushy shoppers. I like the coffee. I like getting in the car and feeling like Mario Andretti racing to the next deal.

“It’s pretty addictive,” she unabashedly admits.

And yet, this year may be the first that Roberson breaks with tradition.

A flat-screen TV deal at Wal-Mart beckons. And the bargain can only be snagged on Thanksgiving evening.

“We’re going to have to put our thinking caps on and figure out what to do,” Roberson said.

This year, the choices for holiday shoppers are more varied and plentiful than ever, and coming earlier than ever before – with many of the major retailers bumping up last year’s 10 p.m. and midnight openings to as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

So what’s a bargain shopper to do? What’s at stake for retailers? And why is Thanksgiving no longer sacred?

Here’s a primer on all things Black Friday:

What’s all the fuss about Black Friday?

ShopperTrak, a firm that analyzes retail traffic and sales, predicts this Black Friday will be the holiday season’s top-performing day – both for sales and the number of shoppers. The stakes are high. On Black Friday alone, ShopperTrak reported $11.4 billion in sales last year. This year is expected to be better.

As many as 147 million people nationwide are projected to hit the stores over the Black Friday weekend, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

And even with all the other shopping options available, 71 percent of consumers surveyed by PriceGrabber.com, still say they believe Black Friday weekend remains the best time to score the best deals during the holiday season.

Why are the major retailers infringing more and more on the Thanksgiving holiday?

Consumers have only themselves to blame, retailers and analysts say.

With the turkey eaten and the bricks-and-mortar stores closed, folks have gotten in the habit of settling in on their sofas with their laptops or tablets to shop. “Online-only retailers were beating stores to the punch,” said James Brown, PriceGrabber.com’s director of merchant accounts.

Stores open on Thanksgiving will give those “couch consumers” an opportunity to touch the merchandise the old-fashioned way before purchasing, he said.

“The bricks-and-mortar retailers, the local people who pay taxes and collect taxes and sponsor Little League teams, are competing against online sites open 24 hours a day,” added Andy Ellen, president and general counsel of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

A second factor remains the still-uncertain economy. Even with consumer confidence trending upward, retailers are wary of consumers maxing out their budgets and closing their wallets.

“It’s always a race,” Brown said. “The sooner you get into that wallet, the better,” he said.

Is nothing sacred anymore?

While some employees who work in retail are protesting – most notably unionized Walmart employees in some parts of the country – the grumbling isn’t likely to gain any real traction. See answers above.

And Ellen, whose organization represents 2,500 retailers in North Carolina, from mom-and-pops to chains, points out that many businesses have been open on Thanksgiving Day for years – with no complaints from consumers.

“We’re not asking the restaurants, movie theaters and golf courses to shut down on Thanksgiving,” he said.

At least one major retailer, however, is bucking the trend to open on Thanksgiving. J.C. Penney – or JCP as it calls itself now – will open its doors at 6 a.m. Friday, two hours later than last year. CEO Ron Johnson, who is trying to turn the struggling retailer around with every-day low pricing, free haircuts and free family portraits, sent an email to customers alerting them that Black Friday – the retailer’s one sale of the year – would indeed begin on Friday. “Spending time with family is one of America’s greatest traditions. ... I’m proud to honor this tradition by keeping our stores closed on this special day.”

I detest crowds but love a deal. Should I skip the whole Black Friday mess?

Since opening times are so staggered – from 8 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday – shoppers shouldn’t experience the utter mayhem in the parking lots and shopping aisles of Black Fridays past.

And Walmart, which set the trend for the earlier openings, has launched a new price guarantee this year on three hot products. No pushing or shoving required.

If other retailers follow suit next year, it just might bring more civility to Black Friday, which has become synonymous in some folks’ minds with unruly shoppers fighting and stampeding for deals, causing injury and in one tragic instance the death of a Walmart employee.

“It takes away the fear of Black Friday for many,” PriceGrabber’s Brown said.

When should I start making my Black Friday shopping plans?

Take a page out of Roberson’s playbook and start strategizing now.

Make a list of what you want to purchase, then start looking for stores offering the best deals on those items and what time those stores open.

Many store circulars are already posted online. Check sites such as BFAds.net and BlackFriday.com. If you prefer to page through the circulars, you’ll find them in Thursday’s newspaper.

Teamwork is essential, said Roberson, who shops with her “pseudo-mother-in-law,” also known as her boyfriend’s mother.

“We sit down like Army soldiers and map out” a route – down to where in the store the sought-after item is located, and how long it will take to get in and get out. If necessary, one woman stays behind the wheel while the other runs in to make the purchase.

Just talking about Black Friday gets Roberson pumped up. “I’m just chomping at the bit,” she said.

Dunn: 919-829-4522

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