From The Editor | November 14, 2011

Black November

By Bob Johns, Associate Editor, Retail Solutions Online

With tight budgets and limited savings, holiday shoppers are not waiting for Black Friday to start their shopping this year. According to the National Retail Federation, 18.6% of all shoppers and 21.1% of online shoppers began their holiday shopping at the end of September. Due to the current state of the economy, many shoppers don't have the ability to save up for major purchases and don't want to run up their charge cards. They have chosen instead to buy less expensive gifts with each paycheck. Retailers that have not started to court these shoppers either online or at their brick-and-mortar stores are going to be left holding the bag — or at least the inventory.

Attracting early shoppers begins during what many retailers are referring to as "Black November," when more retailers are offering Black Friday-style deals earlier. Amazon and NewEgg are featuring deal pricing on holiday gifts by opening their Black Friday online storefronts now. Walmart has begun advertising Black Friday-like pricing online, and you can sign up to receive additional discounts and previews of their Black Friday ad. Walmart also will guarantee that you receive the lowest price on these purchases through a price-matching program, with some exceptions. This price-match guarantee is a first to be offered during the traditional holiday season that is both forward looking and also retroactive. Knowing that they can receive the difference later if a price drops is a tremendous draw for a customer to make purchases early.

Allowing customers with a limited monthly budget to pay over time can be a great advantage in today's economy. That's why retailers such as Kmart, Toys-R-Us, Walmart, and Best Buy are offering layaway to get shoppers in early. Much to the chagrin of parents everywhere, Target, Walmart, Kmart, Sears, and Toys-R-Us have all released their coveted toy catalogs in print and online, complete with early coupons and sale pricing. Kids everywhere can now show their parents exactly what they absolutely "need" to have this year and even create wish baskets online. These stores can also use these catalogs to promote exclusive products and deals that end before Black Friday.

In another innovative way to get people to purchase early, Best Buy, Walmart, Amazon, and other retailers are offering free shipping for online purchases with home or direct-to-store delivery. Best Buy has really stepped up to offer free shipping on all purchases made online through December 27th. Other sites require either a minimum purchase or a membership of sorts to qualify for free shipping.

So When Does Black Friday Start?

Even with all of the early shopping, Black Friday still remains the top retail day of the year. Since the holiday shopping season is getting earlier every year, it makes sense that Black Friday would begin earlier also. So, how early can Black Friday start?

As grandmothers everywhere decry the encroachment into their day, Black Friday hours are creeping into Thanksgiving Day. More and more retailers are open Thanksgiving morning with "Pre-Black Friday" deals, with Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and others planning to continue the practice this year.

Recent tradition has held that stores would open at 4am or 6am on Black Friday. However, Macy's and Target both announced that they will open at Midnight Thanksgiving night with early sales and savings. Toys-R-Us, Wal-Mart, and Kohl's have joined in, planning to open at midnight on Thanksgiving. Macy's was the first department store to break ranks with the traditional hours, but Kohl's soon followed suit. I would imagine that we will see many more retailers revise their Black Friday hours in the weeks to come.

With free shipping being offered by e-retailers, online daily deals, and new Black Friday hours at the brick and mortar stores, the competition for the consumers' holiday dollar is really heating up early this season. At the very least retailers are hoping that offering great deals early and often will help Black November keep them from seeing red.