Saturday, November 21, 2015

Shop 'Til You Stop

It’s Thanksgiving week, that time of year when we count our blessings, vow but fail to eat sensibly and come to the shocking realization that Christmas is almost upon is.

There is shopping to be done. Not the leisurely browse through the racks, try a few things on shopping. No, this is a storm the beaches, take no prisoners exercise.

With a shopping list longer than a CVS receipt, there’s no time to waste.

Nothing captures the spirit of this frenzy like Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday shopping season.

The term was originated by a bunch of Philadelphia cops because of the heavy traffic on that day. More recently, merchants and the media have used it instead to refer to the beginning of the period in which retailers are in the black (turning a profit).

Most major retailers open very early (many during overnight hours) or attempt to lure crowds on Thanksgiving Day before the dishes are even washed.

Monster sales are advertised. Huge discounts are promised. Chaos ensues.

In 2008, a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00 am opening of the local Wal-Mart. As opening time approached, the crowd grew anxious and when the doors were opened the crowd pushed forward, breaking the door down, and trampling a 34-year-old employee to death.

Two people were shot outside a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Florida during a dispute over a parking space.

In laid-back California, two people were fatally shot during an altercation at a  Toys “R” Us  in Palm Desert. 
A woman at a Porter Ranch Wal-Mart used pepper spray on fellow shoppers, causing injuries to a reported 20 people who had been waiting hours for the store to open.

Come to think of it, it might be called Black Friday because it reveals the dark side of human nature. Mix up a bunch of adrenalin pumped shoppers, disinterested clerks and a shortage of sale merchandise, throw them together in the pre-dawn darkness and you have all the ingredients of a soccer riot, retail style.

But before you weep for the future of the human race, know this:

Black Friday might be going dark.

Last year, spending tumbled an estimated 11 percent over the weekend from a year earlier, the Washington-based National Retail Federation said. And more than 6 million shoppers who had been expected to hit stores never showed up.  It was the second year in a row that sales declined during the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend.

“We are seeing the eventual extinction of Black Friday,” said Bill Tancer, head of global research for Experian Marketing Services in an interview with Time magazine.  Fewer people are participating and those who do are spending less.

According to a survey done by retail research firm Conlumino, 45% of shoppers said they planned to spend less on Black Friday this year than last year. Another 24% said they would spend about the same amount while only 18% said they would spend more.
The remaining 13% sat out Black Friday last year and said they would do so again this year.

Retailers looking for the reasons behind the decline need look no farther than the nearest mirror.

Last year, Kmart aired its first Christmas ad in early September, according to Money magazine. Walmart, Target Toys R Us and others then rolled out various versions of the season’s “Hot Toy” list, long before kids had visions of sugar plumbs dancing in their heads.

This year, Wal-Mart made price cuts on 20,000 items, including many in-demand holiday gifts, on Nov. 1. Target had a “Black Friday” event Nov. 10 that gave customers a chance to nab its deals early. And some stores, including Toys R Us, Disney Store and Kate Spade Saturday started their sales several days before Thanksgiving.

Why trade elbows with roaming packs of merciless shoppers on Black Friday when you can score a few bargains and be done with most of your shopping by then?

The fool-me-twice-shame-on-me factor also comes into play.

On the most recent holiday shopping survey from, 81 percent of respondents said that “Black Friday deals are not improving from previous years.”

Identical deals between Black Friday 2014 and Black Friday 2015 were located at big-name stores such as J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Sam’s Club, Sears and Target, among others. Macy’s has at least 60 repeated deals this year, and department store Belk has more than 80, according to a USA Today story.

Then, there’s shopping in our brave new world.

Almost half of holiday shopping, consisting of browsing and buying, will be done online: average consumers say 46 percent of their shopping (both browsing and buying) this holiday season will be conducted online, up from 44 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

And online retailers are playing hardball. After launching a Black Friday online store well ahead of the actual day, Amazon said that its holiday deals started rolling out a full week ahead of Black Friday.

Our world is constantly evolving. I suspect that holiday shopping in the future will consist of selecting an item online. Then computers overseen by robots will manufacture and deliver orders via 3-D printers. 

For traditionalists, Amazon or Wal-Mart drones will deliver packages from the sky just like Santa did.

And Black Friday will be no more.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.

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