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Things You Don't Know About Black Friday

AnnaMaria Andriotis

1. "Black Friday's popularity is on the skids...so prepare for more marketing."

Despite all the hype surrounding Black Friday, the number of consumers who plan to hit the stores and shopping malls on Nov. 25 may be down again this year. According to a recent survey conducted by management consulting company Accenture, 44% of consumers say they're likely to shop on that day, down from 47% in 2010 and 52% in 2009.

To lure more shoppers, retailers are rolling out new marketing strategies, says Larry Woodard, chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council. Consumers who've provided their cell phone numbers to stores in the past can expect text messages touting Black Friday deals. Social media advertising is also on the rise. Macy's (M - News), for example, has been announcing Black Friday deals on Facebook each week since Oct. 31, including 50% off Sharper Image iPhone/iPod docking stations and 40% discounts on coffee makers and espresso machines.

These sneak previews can be a plus for consumers, say experts. By knowing Black Friday prices in advance, shoppers can decide whether it's worth holding off until the big day. Consumers can also follow retailers on Twitter and Facebook for more Black Friday and holiday deal information.

2. "We ruined Thanksgiving."

This year, some retailers will roll out their Black Friday deals before the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleared. Toys "R" Us and Walmart deals will kick off at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively, on Thanksgiving night in most locations. Macy's, Target (TGT - News), Best Buy (BBY - News) and Old Navy, a unit of Gap (GPS - News), say they're opening most stores at midnight. Retail experts say it's all meant to build up consumer demand for the day.

But here's the problem for shoppers: Those who want to snatch up the Black Friday door busters — super low prices on a limited number of electronics and other items — will have to be among the first on line, which means arriving at the store on Thanksgiving morning or at the latest in the afternoon, says Jon Vincent, founder of BlackFriday.info, which tracks Black Friday deals. So much for giving thanks.

Retailers say the earlier openings are all about responding to shoppers' requests. "Our customers have told us they'd rather stay up late to shop than wake up early," says a Walmart spokesman. In its Black Friday announcement, Macy's says it's satisfying customers' "eagerness to shop early for great deals." At least one store chain will offer entertainment: Best Buy will have outdoor screenings of the latest Harry Potter film at about 120 of its stores for customers who wait on line, says Erin Bix, a spokeswoman for Best Buy.

But in some states, Thanksgiving remains off limits for retailers. Most retail employees in Massachusetts and Maine, for example, are prohibited from working on Thanksgiving, which means stores can't open on that day.

3. "Black Friday came early."

Lots of retailers started the Black Friday-like come-ons in early November this year. The reason is simple. Consumer spending this holiday season is expected to increase just 2.8%, about half of the increase retailers saw last year, according to the National Retail Federation. With fewer dollars to go around, retailers are eager to get consumers to spend in their stores as soon as they can, says Jason Baker, principal at Baker Katz, a Houston-based retail brokerage firm.

Walmart launched its "Super Saturday" sale on Nov. 5. That same day Best Buy hosted a "Shop Early, Save Big" event on select consumer electronics. Both stores say the early bird specials won't necessarily be the same on Black Friday.

Be that as it may, some consumers might be better off shopping before Thanksgiving, especially if they're trying to get a TV, computer or other electronics at a discount, says Vincent. While the prices offered on Black Friday could be lower, they'll avoid the long lines and crowds and the possibility of not finding what they want, he says. Plus, several stores, including Walmart and Best Buy, have a holiday price match guarantee (dates and items on which it's in effect, as well as terms, vary by retailer) that offers a credit or refund to shoppers who find a lower price at another store, even after they make a purchase.

4. "You should have stayed home."

Jen Dorman, 27, was on the hunt for a cheap slow cooker. She spent hours at the stores last year on Black Friday looking for a door buster discount. By the time she got to the stores the model she wanted was nowhere to be found. "I felt like I'd gone through an obstacle course and I was wasting all this time," Dorman says. Tired and annoyed, she says she returned home and searched for the appliance online and found it. What's more, it was selling at a lower price than the brick and mortar stores were advertising. Oh, and, she got free shipping, too.

More retailers are offering their Black Friday deals online. Toys "R" Us shoppers will be able to get the same deals online that are in its stores, says company spokeswoman Jennifer Albano. But just because they're on their computer consumers shouldn't think they'll avoid the hype. Expect to receive text messages via your smart phone touting free shipping, discounts, coupons and everything else, says Woodard.

Keep in mind some great deals will be reserved for stores only, says Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Retailers know that once consumers are inside the store, there's a higher chance that they'll end up buying more items than what they intended.

5. "Prepare for violence."

Dan Nainan says he remembers his breaking point. He was waiting outside a Best Buy for three hours before the store opened to buy a flat screen TV that was selling at 50% off. His chances at scoring one were decent, he figured, because he was around the 20th person in line. But as the doors opened a crowd ran to the doors cutting the line. Angered, the shoppers behind him started pushing forward. "It was a mob scene," he says. "There was all this pushing and shoving; I thought someone was going to get trampled." Bix, Best Buy's spokeswoman, says that the safety of its customers and employees is its biggest priority.

Fortunately, no one was injured, says Nainan. But Black Friday scenes like this have been occurring during the past few years with deadly consequences. In 2008, roughly 2,000 shoppers stormed a Walmart in Valley Stream, N.Y., trampling an employee to death. Since then the company has implemented crowd management techniques, says a Walmart spokesman.

Separately, last year, a shopper was arrested outside a Madison, Wisc., Toys "R" Us after she allegedly threatened to shoot shoppers who objected to her cutting the line. The shopper didn't really have a gun, says Toys "R' Us spokeswoman Albano but police on the scene arrested her. "We continually look for ways to raise the bar on safety," she adds. At Best Buy, employees give shoppers who are waiting in line tickets for the door buster item they want to help maintain order.

6. "Surprise gift? Higher car insurance bills."

It's nighttime. The drivers behind the wheel haven't slept. And they're speeding. It's a common scenario on Black Friday and insurance experts say it's a recipe for disaster. Data doesn't exist for car accidents that occur strictly on Black Friday, but some of the accidents that occur are due to the shopping frenzy that accompanies the kick-off to the holiday season, says Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institute.

The results can be a blow to consumers' pocketbooks. To begin with, car accidents can lead to higher car insurance premiums for the driver who's found to be at fault, says Worters. Then there are the out-of-pocket costs of repairing a car, which can kick in if a driver has a deductible. "You're trying to save yourself money by going to the mall early, but you could actually cost yourself more," she says.

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