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Black Friday retailers race to reach shoppers

November 21, 2012
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Retailers race to reach shoppers
Meijer, which operates 204 stores, began in 1938 when barber Hendrik Meijer purchased $328.76 worth of merchandise on credit to serve customers during the Great Depression. Photo via fb.com

The rules of Black Friday are changing.

The stakes have gotten higher and more demanding as the year’s busiest shopping day continues increasing business hours, sending more customers online and leaving others to sacrifice Thanksgiving rituals for the annual quest into the heart of America’s retail rush hour.

West Michigan is no exception to the game-changing nature of Black Friday’s competitive disposition. Local stores are expanding their hours and offering more incentives for in-store shopping.

Kohl’s Department Store announced its “Operation: Black Friday” sales event on Kohls.com, allowing customers to “preview Black Friday deals earlier than ever.” More than 500 “early bird” specials were available on the website starting Wednesday, with Black Friday deals beginning at midnight Thursday. “Night owl” deals will continue through Saturday and into Cyber Monday.

Woodland Mall, for the first time in its history, is planning to have the majority of its stores open at midnight on Thursday. Retail superstore Meijer also is continuing its door-buster deals spread over Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Saturday.

Downtown Grand Rapids, however, is expected to be fairly tame compared to outlet traffic jams this holiday weekend. The Downtown Grand Rapids Alliance has had several meetings with merchants who say the experience of leisurely shopping mixed with taking in the city is what downtown Grand Rapids is best for, said Nicole Weichelt, Downtown Alliance marketing coordinator.

The Downtown Alliance frequently uses campaigns for certain seasons, she said, but does not focus on a single day.

Grand Rapids Chamber President Rick Baker echoed her words, saying stores in downtown might have individual Black Friday deals, but as a whole, the urban core does not offer collaborative special promotions or deals.

The city has annual holiday events like the Santa Parade, but the real attraction for native Grand Rapidians returning for Thanksgiving might be the energy of downtown.

“Black Friday in the downtown looks a lot different than the outlets,” Weichelt said. “It’s about having an experience downtown, grab a great meal, catch a show, go shopping. … It’s all about the quality of the experience you have.”

It seems like almost an impossibility that both in-store and online shopping are on the rise, but the numbers check out.

A recent holiday shopping survey conducted by Accenture, a global management and technology services company, revealed that a declining interest in Black Friday has reversed, with 53 percent of survey-takers saying they plan to shop on Black Friday — an 11 percent leap from last year.

Additionally, 52 percent of consumers were willing to shop online if retailers offered discounts, with 54 percent saying they would shop online if a retailer offered the same product both online and in store. Thirty percent said the motivating factor is the desire to avoid the crowds.

Still, discount retailers are the most popular destination this year, with 75 percent of consumers saying they will shop at stores.

Fifty-six percent of shoppers said they are likely to participate in “showrooming,” meaning they will walk into the store to handle the item, then leave to buy it online.

Although online shopping might be convenient, it can’t replace in-store shopping for products requiring a hands-on experience with a customer, said Nate Aniszko, manager at the Art Van Furniture store on 28th Street SE.

Art Van opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday to customers who most likely already have pre-shopped online, Aniszko said. Art Van’s online shopping has increased, but with a product like furniture, in-store purchase is still necessary.

“You need to actually try out a mattress. You need to try sitting in a sofa,” he said. “You need to be able to touch and feel it, rather than just click on a picture to buy.”

Giveaways are the magic words to customers, Aniszko said, and are an increasing demand of Black Friday. Art Van’s 34 stores will take part in the trend with the biggest Black Friday sale in the company’s history. Customers have a shot at winning a 2013 Fiat, as well as other giveaways such as $400 gift cards, furniture deals and Apple TVs.

This is exactly the kind of marketing a local store should be doing, said Rob Woods, senior marketing manager of Blackfriday.com, as it might be the only way to compete with the increasing use of mobile shopping.

Accenture’s survey showed tablet and smartphone shopping also is increasing, with 25 percent of respondents saying they plan to use these tech tools to buy holiday gifts, compared to only 17 percent last year.

It’s a similar trend Woods saw on his site, with mobile devices being used to plan out shopping routes and hunt for ads.

“Last year, 18 percent of our traffic was coming from mobile. This year it’s 38 percent. It’s absolutely exploded,” he said. “It’s even balanced between IOS and Android. Tablet traffic is also there, with probably 80 percent or higher using iPad.”

Blackfriday.com’s online traffic expects 3 million to 4 million views on Thanksgiving as people plan their day, and about 2 million views on Friday, Woods said. By the end of the holiday season, he expects 25 million views.

Earlier store openings are driving the traffic, he said, but what’s actually behind the earlier store openings? Why are Kmart and Sears opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with Target opening an hour later?

Woods’ answer: Walmart.

“This all really started last year with Walmart opening at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Before that, no one did it at all,” he said. “It’s a way to capture online sales as in-store sales again because retailers are judged by in-store sales. They’re all trying to one-up each other.”

The increased craze of Black Friday has left many unhappy, feeling it interrupts family time on Thanksgiving, Woods said. Black Friday used to be a separate event, but with earlier store openings fueling online competition, the Thursday of thankfulness and the Friday of materialism are blending.

“We’re seeing a lot of comments from people quite upset that it’s interfering with their Thanksgiving. Some people are saying shop online only or boycott Black Friday,” Woods said.

“This is a real test for retail. They’ve all tried to do the one-upmanship. It’s yet to be seen as to whether it works or not. They’re getting to a tipping point where they’re getting people upset. They might do more damage to in-store sales than good.”

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