Black Friday Deals Big, Even Earlier; Shoppers Upbeat

Investor's Business Daily

Melissa Smith will be in high gear as she navigates Friday's shopping frenzy. She'll start her quest at 4 a.m. at Target to get a $49 Barnes & Noble Simple Touch e-reader for her eldest son. Then she'll head to Macy's for Christmas ornaments for her grandkids. She aims to finish by 7 a.m. after buying household goods for herself at Bed Bath & Beyond.

She figures she'll buy 30% to 40% of her holiday gifts on Black Friday, and plenty more on "Cyber Monday.

"The deals are just too good to pass up," said Smith, 45, of Tyrone, Ga.

Smith and her husband have retired, but she isn't worried about holiday spending.

Deals will be aplenty and available earlier than ever at places like Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT), open Thanksgiving night.

Shoppers will be hunting for bargains on electronic devices like laptops and digital tablets such as the Apple (AAPL) iPad and Amazon (AMZN) Kindle Fire. Jewelry and footwear also will be hot picks.

Consumers are in more of a buying mood heading into the holiday as key drags, such as housing, turn into positives.

"The consumer's willingness to spend this holiday season is far more upbeat than we've seen since at least 2004," said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.

An ICSC-Goldman Sachs survey taken Nov. 11 found 24% of consumers plan to spend more or a lot more on holiday gifts than 2011 vs. 11% saying so last year.

"The fact that the consumer is ready and willing to spend is quite encouraging for retailers as a whole ," he said.

Consumers are going into Black Friday feeling more confident than they have in several years, adds Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group. He expects Black Friday weekend sales — starting Thursday — to increase 4.5%-5% vs. a year ago.

Earlier Than Ever

Retailers have been aggressive in giving earlier access to deals ahead of the Black Friday weekend, said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics. So Black Friday won't be the year's No. 1 selling day as it has been the last few years, but it will still be big.

"It's enough of a tradition that people will shop and retailers will make it worth their while throughout the day, which will translate into pretty strong traffic and sales," he said.

Several stores have upped the ante with earlier-than-ever-shopping hours. Wal-Mart will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night for the first time. Target will open at 9 p.m. for the first time.

Earlier shopping hours create an opportunity for people to shop more and do it more strategically without having to buck the Black Friday crowds, said Cohen.

They also become more competitive with online rivals. In the past, says Cohen, e-retailers online had "unchallenged time frames" on Thanksgiving Day and night and Cyber Monday.

Now, they're being challenged by their brick-and-mortar peers.

Online sales for brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers will outpace brick-and-mortar sales growth, says Perkins.

Brick-and-mortar stores are offering online Black Friday deals earlier, he says, and we're going to see more deals on Thanksgiving Day this year than last year.

"It's all about gaining share and booking sales as early as they can," said Perkins.

Kohl's (KSS) is offering more than 500 early-bird specials on Kohls.com starting Wednesday.

Stores have kept inventories "tight" heading into the holiday, says Perkins. Margins should be relatively good, he says, and discounts will be planned.

There won't be any "fire sales" on Black Friday, adds Cohen.

This year's holiday shopping season is as long as possible — 32 days from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Because Black Friday comes so early, all the sales pulled forward will leave a deeper-than-normal sales "lull" between that day and Dec. 15, says Perkins.

He says if that lull persists deeper into December, it could lead to sharper markdowns.

But the season's length means less to the consumer, added Niemira. Black Friday and the days close to Christmas, like the Saturday before, are the big drivers.

In addition to electronics, sporting goods, footwear, perfume and fashion accessories like handbags should do well on Black Friday, says Cohen.

Off-price retailers like Ross Stores (ROST) and TJX Cos. (TJX) are among the likely Black Friday winners, Perkins expects.

November-December same-store sales should rise 3% vs. a year earlier, Niemira says, slightly less than last year's 3.3% gain but above the 10-year trend.

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