Retailers’ holiday push is earlier, harder this year

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Retailers’ holiday push is earlier, harder this year

Most consumers haven’t bought their Thanksgiving turkey yet, but it’s already the holiday shopping season in the minds of many retailers.

Wal-Mart, Target and others are aggressively advertising holiday specials online and in stores to get a jump on the spending spree that remains a key contributor to merchants’ financial health.

Although Black Friday remains a big shopping day, its importance has been eroded by ever-earlier bargains, the growing clout of online shopping and retailers’ fear that the other guys are getting a jump on them. That competition anxiety was behind the push five years ago to open stores on Thanksgiving Day, and merchants are proving again this year that they can’t open their physical stores early enough to launch the season.

Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Toys R Us and several others plan to open on Thanksgiving again this year — some even earlier than in 2016 — a move that in past seasons drew grumbling from some consumers and retail employees unhappy with retail’s “Christmas creep.”

Brick-and-mortar stores are expected to lose more ground this year to the convenience of shopping by phone or computer.

E-commerce has become so pervasive that U.S. online retail sales this holiday season are expected to reach $107.4 billion this year, a 13.8 percent jump from last year and the first time they’ll top the $100 billion mark, the research firm Adobe Analytics forecasts.

All together, U.S. holiday retail sales (those for November and December) should climb 3.6 percent to 4 percent this year, to as much as $682 billion, the National Retail Federation forecasts.

The economy is helping.

“The combination of job creation, improved wages, tame inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence (for consumers) to spend,” Jack Kleinhenz, the NRF’s chief economist, said in a statement.

And retailers are trying to cover every shopping preference and garner every possible sales dollar as they launch the holiday spending season, which can account for about 40 percent of a retailer’s annual revenue.

It would be a mistake to confuse the problems of the retailers’ physical stores — which partly reflects that too many were built to survive the shift to online — with the notion that Americans no longer care as much to step foot in stores for “doorbusters” and other deeply discounted goods, analysts said.

After all, if online shopping is all the rage, why bother opening stores on Thanksgiving Day?

Because “a website can’t give you goosebumps” like those experienced in touching, buying and taking home the electronics, apparel and other goods bought during the holidays, Barr said.

“Let’s say you and I both want to buy a TV on Thanksgiving Day,” he said. “You go online and it’s going to be delivered in two to three days. I go to the store, get my TV and I’m home in an hour and watching it. It’s an emotional interaction, and that’s what they’re appealing to on Thanksgiving Day.”

The International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, said its latest survey indicated that 84 percent of shoppers on Thanksgiving weekend expect to head to stores. And 85 percent of the respondents said they expect that when they get there, their purchases will depend on deals or promotions.

That expectation of seeing tantalizing price cuts is partly the fallout from the surge in internet shopping, a segment in which the likes of Amazon.com have put huge downward pressure on prices.

Americans’ online purchases on Cyber Monday alone will climb 16.5 percent from last year to $6.6 billion, making it the largest online-shopping day in history, Adobe estimates.

The term “Cyber Monday” was coined by staffers at the National Retail Federation in 2005 when they noticed a jump in online sales following the Black Friday weekend.

Many consumers at the time had relatively slow internet connections at home. It became apparent that when they returned to work or school Monday, where they had computers with faster internet speeds, they shopped online.

Retailers seized on the trend and began heavily promoting Cyber Monday as another day for major holiday discounts. And now, of course, fast internet connections are ubiquitous on smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

This year, Adobe Analytics expects that purchases made on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets will account for 54 percent of all e-commerce holiday sales — the first time they’ll surpass online sales made on desktop machines.

Target and Best Buy were among the retailers that released Black Friday promotional prices on hundreds of items last week — sale prices that will return on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

Target and other retailers also heavily promoted “sneak peeks” of their Black Friday advertising flyers on their websites in hopes of luring consumers when Black Friday arrives.

Not every retailer will be open Thanksgiving Day, however.

Chains such as Home Depot, Costco, Nordstrom and Marshalls are among those expected to stay closed Thanksgiving Day, according to BestBlackFriday.com, which tracks the industry.

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