Black Friday: Let Holiday Shopping Frenzy Begin
On your mark, get set, go.
The holiday shopping season kicks into high gear in two days, when up to 138 million people nationwide plan to shop Black Friday weekend.
According to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, about 60 million Americans say they will definitely hit the stores, while another 78 million are waiting see if the bargains are worth braving the crowds.
"The rules of Black Friday have changed significantly," says NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Instead of waiting until Thanksgiving Day to announce their promotions, many retailers are getting shoppers excited about Black Friday by offering sneak peeks of deals in advance, using social media to create buzz, or teasing upcoming deals in their websites."
Businesses in Aberdeen got a jump on the holiday shopping season by hosting a downtown Open House earlier this month.
"There's been an uptick in our foot traffic since the Open House and the credit goes to all the merchants," says Betsy Saye, co-owner of One Eleven Main. "We're really encouraged by the early traffic we've seen."
Saye and her partners, Julie Moore and Erin ReVille, opened their retail store in October 2009 and will apply the lessons learned from their first holiday shopping season.
"Last year, we were just glad to open our doors," Saye says. "This year, we really grappled with how to maximize the selling season without offending our customers by displaying Christmas merchandise too soon. It's part of the learning curve."
The same can be said for "Cyber Monday." Five years after the phrase was coined, retailers have more robust plans for the Monday after Thanksgiving. Nearly nine in 10 retailers will have a special promotion for Cyber Monday, whether it be specific online deals, one-day sales or free shipping on all purchases, according to a survey by Shop.org.
"Today, Cyber Monday has become such a crucial component of the holiday season that many retailers - and shoppers - don't remember the holidays without it," says Joan Broughton, interim executive director of Shop.org. "And just when we think that Cyber Monday can't get any bigger, it does."
The NRF expects holiday sales to rise 2.3 percent this year to $447.1 billion, with U.S. consumers planning to spend an average of $688.87 on holiday-related shopping.
"Consumers will still shop with the economy in the back of their minds, but we're starting to see shoppers take baby steps toward a new normal," Shay says. "As Americans open up their wallets ... retailers will begin to truly believe that the worst may be behind them."
Rita Huber, co-owner of Edible Arrangements at Pinecrest Plaza shopping center in Southern Pines, opened the franchise earlier this month after mulling the idea for five years.
"We got serious when the company started running national advertisements and the economy showed signs of improvement," Huber says. "We went to corporate to sign a contract in August and found this location the next month.
"The goal was to open in November in time for the holidays."
Mission accomplished. The store opened Nov. 8, and Huber has seen a steady increase in business since then.
"It's hard to tell how the holiday season will go because this is our first year," she says. "We haven't gotten slammed yet, but we will be prepared if we do."
Huber says that all of the arrangements are made daily using fresh fruit provided by local vendors. And anything not sold within two days is donated.
"Everything is prepared on site and we do not use preservatives," she says. "We've been lucky that many customers have seen Edible Arrangements elsewhere and have started coming here."
When it comes to toys, Barbie and video games haven't lost any appeal with American children, but they do have some strong competition from a few notable newcomers.
Popular holiday toys this year will include Dora the Explorer, which jumped three spots to No. 3 on the girls' list, and Disney's Toy Story characters, which made the Top 10 boys' list for the first time in the history of a separate NRF survey at No. 4.
"With many retailers already discounting popular toys, parents should make sure to start their shopping sooner rather than later as 'hot' merchandise is hard to keep around," Shay says.
Meanwhile, gift cards remain No. 1 among adults, marking the fourth year in a row gift cards have topped consumers' wish lists.
"With people focusing less on price and more on value this holiday season, Americans may choose to buy gift cards due to their convenience and popularity among gift recipients," Shay says.
To ensure they only spend within their budget, more Americans will use their debit cards or cash for their holiday purchases, while the use of credit cards is expected to decrease to its lowest level since 2002.
Although the economy continues to impact shoppers, the results of the NRF surveys indicate that shoppers may be ready to emerge from their shells this holiday season.
Saye certainly hopes so.
"We're trying creative things to get people in the store," she says. "We want to knock it out of the park."
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