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US Shoppers Crowd Stores on 'Black Friday'

November 26, 2011

The U.S. holiday shopping season has officially begun, with shoppers crowding stores for post-Thanksgiving sales in a yearly event nicknamed "Black Friday."

The competition for the best deals took an aggressive turn Thursday night, when a woman at a Walmart in Los Angeles used pepper spray on other customers to gain an advantage.

Black Friday is the day many stores sharply discount high-priced items such as electronics and the latest new toys. Its name signifies retailers' expectations of high sales, as profits were once recorded in account books in black ink, while losses were recorded in red.

Stores also open their doors hours earlier than usual, which helps foster excitement among bargain hunters.

Black Friday is one of the most important days for retail chains because it indicates what they can expect during the next month of holiday shopping -- their most lucrative time of year.

But not everyone is in favor of the phenomenon. Protesters with the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement were encouraging people to take part in "Buy Nothing Day," a day of protest against consumerism observed worldwide.

Though there are already plenty of great deals on everything from e-readers and smartphones to apparel and toys, Americans know there is only one Black Friday - and the best is yet to come. According to a preliminary Black Friday shopping survey, conducted for the National Retail Federation by BIGresearch, up to 152 million people plan to shop Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), higher than the 138 million people who planned to do so last year. According to the survey, 74 million people say they will definitely hit the stores and another 77 million are waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the cold and the crowds.

“Though many retailers are already touting select Black Friday ads, there’s no doubt we’ll all be blown away by what retailers still have in their bag of tricks for shoppers,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “We fully expect to see excited shoppers as early as midnight at stores around the country, as many holiday shoppers would rather stay up all night to take advantage of retailers’ Black Friday deals rather than set their alarm to wake up the next morning.”

For the first time, NRF asked shoppers how they plan to keep track of retailers’ holiday sales and promotions announcements. Half (50.5%) will keep up with advertising circulars throughout the holiday season and nearly one-third (31.7%) said they will tune in to watch retailers’ holiday commercials. Additionally, nearly one-quarter (23.1%) will seek out coupon websites like RetailMeNot.com and FatWallet.com, and 32.3 percent will specifically keep track of the email coupons they receive from retailers.

“Social media will play a big role in how shoppers follow company sales announcements this holiday season,” said Phil Rist, Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. “From Facebook to Twitter and even group buying sites, ‘social’ retailers may be rewarded this season in terms of additional holiday sales.”

The survey found 17.3 percent will monitor retailers’ Facebook pages and 11.3 percent will check out group-buying sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Of those who own tablet devices and who plan to shop for or research holiday items this year, one in five (21.3%) will seek out group buying sites and 31.2 percent will check out retailers’ Facebook pages.

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