Here are two things you should know about the upcoming holiday shopping season: It will be long, and retailers plan to do their darnedest to get you to part with your money.
In fact, with 32 days stretching from Black Friday to Christmas Eve — including an extra weekend — the season will be the longest the calendar allows, says ShopperTrak, a retail data analyst.
Make that 33 days, if you count the eve of Black Friday — Thanksgiving — which more retailers are populating with special holiday “doorbusters” this year.
Sears, for instance, will kick off its season at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, with stores remaining open for 26 hours straight; additional sales are scheduled to begin at 4 a.m. on Black Friday.
Walmart will start its holiday rollout on Thanksgiving Day, too, but plans three sales “events” into Black Friday: at 8 p.m. Thursday, with specials on toys, games and apparel; a one-hour deep discount on selected electronics at 10 p.m. Thursday; and a more traditional 5 a.m. Friday blowout.
Why the creep into Thanksgiving? Because retailers have to find new ways to generate excitement — and foot traffic — among consumers.
Projections show modest increases in 2012 holiday spending — in the 3 percent to 4 percent range, or about $9 more per average shopper than the $740 they spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The trade group, which predicts overall holiday sales will reach $586 billion nationwide, says the November-December period can account for 20 percent to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual receipts.
But unemployment remains high, consumer confidence is still shaky and the Jan. 1 confluence of tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff” looms large.
So that once-novel 7 a.m. opening on Black Friday is old hat now — as are the 6, 5 and 4 a.m. openings.
Last year, 226 million shoppers hit the stores during the weekend that included Black Friday — a record number, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, Black Friday is expected to be the single biggest sales and traffic day of the season, according to ShopperTrak — a title once held by the Saturday closest to Christmas.
And even though holiday sales last year put in a strong 5.6 percent showing versus 2010, there was some nail-biting after the big Black Friday weekend. For the following two weeks, sales fell below year-earlier levels before picking up again — to a collective sigh of relief from retailers.
This year’s 32 shopping days “provide extra time for consumers to shop more frequently and to visit more stores,” says ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin, meaning retailers will have “a golden opportunity to convert more browsers into buyers.” But, he added, “they’ll have to prepare to manage increased operating costs” for staffing and advertising that will come with the additional days.
One other wildcard might be Superstorm Sandy, which left parts of the Northeast cold and dark for two weeks after it blew through Oct. 29.
Earlier this week, on a conference call for retail reporters brainstorming holiday story ideas, the moderator lamented her many days in the dark due to Sandy and said she anticipates being in recovery mode, rather than a celebratory mood, during the holidays.
She wondered aloud about shopping enthusiasm tempered by the storm and what that could mean for retailers in the “heavily stored” Northeast. Could Black Friday instead become Blah Friday in some communities?
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.