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Black Friday weekend sales give retailers holiday momentum

DinShaw during Black Friday shopping Woodfield Mall Schaumburg Friday  November 23 2012. l John H. White ~Sun-Times

Dina Shaw, during Black Friday shopping at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg Friday, November 23, 2012. l John H. White ~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:21AM



Call it Black Friday. Call it Cyber Monday. Or call it Thankless Thursday if you stood in line after turkey dinner for an item that was sold out.

For retailers, it’s all part of the fourth-quarter rush that for many will decide if the year is profitable. Like a football team strategizing for the gridiron’s fourth quarter, the merchants want to play to their strengths.

That means starting the promotional season early, bumping it up to early November in some cases. It means rolling out discounts at various times in the buildup to Christmas to keep people interested and coming back.

Some, such as Wal-Mart, are giving away gift cards with big-ticket items such as flatscreen TVs, hoping they’ll induce patrons to return and ring up more sales before the whistle blows on 2012.

It’s a way to take the Black Friday bustle and make it last. “To keep their customers excited about holiday shopping, retailers will continue to offer attractive promotions through December,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive of the National Retail Federation.

Early indications were that the weekend gave retailers strong momentum, with much of the increasing spending online.

The retail federation estimated Sunday that 139.4 million adults visited stores and online retail sites in the United States during the Thursday-through-Sunday period, up 6 percent from 131 million last year. Counting repeat visitors, the federation estimated 247 million shoppers browsed and bought during the Black Friday period, vs. 226 million last year, a 9 percent increase.

The visits translated into spending estimated at $59.1 billion, or about $423 per shopper, up almost 13 percent from $52.4 billion during 2011’s Thanksgiving weekend.

A survey for the federation by BIGinsight found that 41 percent of the shopping expenditures were made online, up from 38 percent a year ago.

As for the stores that violated the sanctity of Thanksgiving by opening late Thursday, evidence shows the move paid off, despite the criticism in some quarters. Shay said Thursday night shopping is becoming a part of the holiday, especially for younger people.

“The folks who opened early felt it was worth their while,” said John Chikow, president and chief executive of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association. Those preferring a traditional approach should shop at Nordstrom, he said. “They don’t put their decorations up until the day after Thanksgiving,” Chikow said.

The research firm comScore offered another take on the cyber customer, reporting that on Black Friday alone, online sales exceeded $1 billion for the first time and were up 26 percent from last year.

ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said that while media concentrate on the mobs at traditional stores, “we continue to see this shopping day become more prominent in the e-commerce channel — particularly among those who prefer to avoid crowds at the stores.”

For the season beginning Nov. 1, online spending was $13.7 billion through Friday, up 16 percent from a year ago, comScore said.

This year, one of the retail tricks was to offer the same discount price online and in stores, allowing some buyers to grab the goods without venturing into the cold. Free shipping sweetened the deal.

As Cyber Monday dawns, retailers will test offers not yet seen.

Amazon, for example, started the festivities at midnight Monday, advertising 60 percent off a 55-inch TV that usually goes for more than $1,000. Sears is offering a similar discount on a Maytag washer and dryer marked down to $399 each. Kmart is taking 75 percent off diamond earrings.

Contributing: AP



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