By keeping marketing and advertising plans top secret, large retailers hope to create customer buzz for the upcoming holiday season, starting with the day known as Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving.
Stores open before sunrise, hoping to lure customers with sales on everything from laptop computers to Barbie dolls. In 2004, more than 71 percent of shoppers went to retailers on Black Friday, increasing sales by 4.8 percent compared to the previous year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
But while shoppers hit the stores on Black Friday, the higher traffic doesn’t always translate into the highest sales day of the year.
“It’s a big day,” said Diane Loschen, marketing manager for The Citadel Mall. “We have a lot of people in the center – it’s the day most people get out and start getting enthusiastic about the season. But some of the people are just out to look at the decorations and decide what to buy later.”
Last year, Black Friday heralded a record-breaking holiday season, sales were up from 2003 by 5.5 percent for the third quarter. It was the second busiest day of the year, behind Saturday, Dec. 18, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Sales forecasts from customer surveys at General Growth Properties, owner of Chapel Hills Mall, show prospects for a healthy retail holiday season this year, said marketing manager Jill Lace.
“The survey showed that people were planning to spend at the same levels, or a little bit more than last year,” she said. “So we’re optimistic that this holiday season will be a great one for the center.”
With ebbing consumer confidence levels, retailers are hoping customers are in the mood to buy early. Wal-Mart, for example, started its holiday marketing Nov. 1, the earliest holiday start date for the nation’s largest retailer.
“We’re putting a lot of stock in this holiday season,” said Gail Lavielle, director of corporate communicates for the retail giant. “We’ve started it earlier, and have a coordinated marketing campaign for everything in the store.”
As retailers gear up for the start of the holiday shopping season, many big box retailers are keeping their plans under wraps, “to create anticipation,” said Lavielle.
“We don’t release what we sell, or what it’s going to sell for,” she said. “We have people waiting in line for the after-Thanksgiving sales.”
And creating the buzz appears to be working. Web sites are devoted to spoilers – downloading scans of leaked advertising circulars before their official release date and message boards are devoted to tips about how to get the best items at the best prices for the holiday season.
At gottadeal.com, Black Friday is the subject of dozens of threads, all speculating on which big box retailers will offer big discounts on everything from computers to iPods.
Target also maintains secrecy about its plans for the big holiday weekend, although spokeswoman Aimee Sands said the store does not focus on early sales, instead supplying a variety of sales items during its annual two-day sales event.
“We’re marketing Target as the one place to shop for the entire holiday season,” she said. “We want our guests to know they can get it all here – gifts, decorations, food, beverages. So we’re not really focusing on early shopping specials, although we will be opening early.”
Target and Wal-Mart will be open before the sun rises, at 5 a.m., this year. Wal-Mart-owned Sam’s Club is also participating in Black Friday sales, Lavielle said.
“It’s the first time Sam’s has done anything like what other retailers do on Black Friday,” she said. “They are opening early, having early sales and offering breakfast for members.”
Locally owned retailers are also getting ready for the big holiday shopping season, expecting to ring up big sales throughout the long weekend. While they don’t compete with big box retailers with extra pre-Thanksgiving marketing, the holiday shopping brings additional customers.
“We try to beat them by having our own day, ‘Pikes Peak Unchained, the Saturday before Thanksgiving,” said Andy Gimes, president of the Pikes Peak Independent Business Alliance and manager of Compleat Games and Hobbies. “We can’t out-market the big guys for Black Friday – they have huge marketing machines – so we try to catch people in advance.”
Despite the lack of marketing – or early morning hours – Gimes said local businesses benefit on Black Friday, since most people use the day to shop.
“We have a pretty good day that day,” he said. “We don’t plan to be open early, it just doesn’t pay and our customers don’t expect it. But we do see more people in the store that day. Some people don’t want to go to the big stores and fight the crowds, so they come here instead.”
Downtown shopping attracts people who prefer to stay away from malls and other stores, he said.
“Some people don’t care to shop at malls,” he said. “So they come here, we still see a large surge – even without gigantic marketing plans.”
And Wal-Mart’s plans this year are bigger than ever, Lavielle said. She said the store is putting more emphasis on high-end items such as electronics and apparel.
“People are going to be surprised,” she said. “They are going to come into Wal-Mart for groceries, but realize that we have so many other items as well. We’re changing what we do – trying to become more relevant for our customers.”
Top 10 Shopping Days – 2004
Saturday, Dec. 18
Friday, Nov. 26
Saturday, Dec. 11
Saturday, Dec. 4
Thursday, Dec. 23
Friday, Dec. 17
Wednesday, Dec. 22
Tuesday, Dec. 21
Wednesday, Dec. 15
Friday, Dec. 24
(Source: International Council of Shopping Centers)