Until recently, Black Friday was the shot from the starting gun in retailers’ month-long sprint for holiday shopping supremacy. But many of the deals that shoppers saw Friday morning were hardly the one-time flash sales that once ruled the day.
The “30 percent off full-price styles” offer that J. Crew was touting? It’s been available since Wednesday. The $28.88 price tag on the “Frozen” doll at Wal-Mart? The retailer made that price cut (and nearly 20,000 others) on Nov. 1. Wishing you had ponied up for the Keurig K45 coffee maker at Macy’s? Not to worry — the $99 sale price will last until Monday.
Black Friday promotions gradually inched into Thanksgiving Day, but this year the spirit of holiday discounting has metastasized into a weeks-long cascade of promotions and offers that retailers believe is their best chance to get shoppers to spend.
“It won’t have the impact that it’s had in the past simply because it’s been spread out,” said Ted Vaughan, partner in the retail and consumer products practice at consulting firm BDO. “The single day isn’t as significant.”
Shoppers appear to have caught on.
Pentagon City mall in Arlington, Va., was humming on Friday, but it was hardly the frenzied stampede that we’ve come to associate with the day after Thanksgiving. Registers at many retailers largely had no checkout lines and the food court had empty tables.
Brandon Pedroza had girded himself for chaos on his first Black Friday shopping excursion. But after purchasing a jacket and pants at Macy’s, he was surprised by the relative calm.
“I thought it was going to be people elbowing each other. It hasn’t been like that at all,” he said.
Todd Jerscheid, the mall’s director of marketing, said the action has shifted and the mall was “slammed” Thursday between 6 p.m. and midnight, when many of the stores kicked off their sales.
Part of the calm is also likely due to the increasing number of shoppers who are buying Christmas gifts online. Melissa Green nabbed an iPad mini for $279 Wednesday night after pouncing on a Groupon offer. Green said she planned to do more online shopping after work Friday, but she wouldn’t be setting foot in a store.
“It helps to avoid crowds. I feel like I see more stuff,” Green said. “I feel like you get both the in-store and online-only [sales], so sometimes I feel the selection is greater.”
One indication of a surge in online shopping came Friday morning, when Best Buy’s Web site briefly stopped working. The company later said it temporarily shut down the site after a spike in traffic from mobile devices triggered problems.
There are plenty of reasons that retailers are stretching out their Black Friday sales. For one, Thanksgiving fell late this year, and analysts say that retailers are trying to cope by elongating what otherwise might have been a short season for Christmas shopping.
Retailers are also hungry to get shoppers into stores after what has largely been a tepid year for the industry. Discount prices, it seems, are practically the only way to get consumers off the sidelines. And retailers seem intent on satisfying customers such as Green who want a bargain but have been scared off by the specter of big crowds.
Wal-Mart this year is touting five days of “Black Friday” deals, which began Thursday and will continue through Monday. But the nation’s largest retailer actually tried to get holiday shoppers in the spirit much earlier: A week ago, Wal-Mart began price-matching its competitors’ planned Black Friday deals on items such as the PlayStation 4 gaming console and Keurig K40 coffee maker. Wal-Mart cut prices all the way back on Nov. 1 for some in-demand holiday gifts such as a light-up doll of Elsa from the Disney film “Frozen.”
Toys R Us made the majority of its holiday weekend deals available online at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, while members of Kmart’s rewards program have had access to its Black Friday deals since Nov. 22. Staples trumpeted two weeks of Black Friday deals starting on Nov. 16.
Experts say the lengthened Black Friday could have a mixed result for retailers.
“[It] has a potential risk for backfiring,” said Ravi Dhar, a professor at the Yale School of Management who studies consumer behavior. “The way these sales work is they have to create an element of scarcity.”
When sales are available for days on end, Dhar said, some of the urgency to buy is lost.
But Vaughan of BDO said a more gradual trickle of shoppers could help retailers better satisfy customers.
“If they’re able to have more of a controlled trend of how shoppers come into their stores, they’re better able to control their inventory levels,” Vaughan said.
Ciera Hargrove of the District was among those who waited until Friday morning to get her shopping fix.
With her 5-month-old Yorkie puppy named Couture in tow in her purse, Hargrove nabbed plenty of goodies: underwear, lip gloss and a toiletries pouch from Victoria’s Secret, socks and makeup brushes from Forever 21.
“It’s chill,” Hargrove said. “No long lines anywhere.”