Stores try to cater to savvier shop­pers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Anne D’Innocenzio AP Re­tail Writer

NEW YORK » Even peo­ple who said they’d al­ready done their shop­ping on­line came out for Black Fri­day to spend time with fam­ily mem­bers or just for the fun of look­ing.

But it’s those very shop­pers re­tail­ers are try­ing to keep as loyal cus­tomers, work­ing to im­prove their own on­line sites and let­ting peo­ple pick up pur­chases in the store as the re­tail­ers try to fend off the Ama­zon jug­ger­naut. Even as re­tail­ers kick off the shop­ping sea­son ear­lier each year, the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing is still one of the busiest sales days of the year. It’s also be­com­ing an Amer­i­can ex­port to other coun­tries.

Shop­pers were on the hunt for deals and were at the stores for en­ter­tain­ment Fri­day. Store ex­ec­u­tives say they see cus­tomers do­ing more re­search on­line be­fore they go shop. That can mean more browsers turn into buy­ers, but also that they are vis­it­ing fewer stores in per­son.

“If I’ve seen it on the in­ter­net and I find a better deal than I saw on the in­ter­net, I’ll buy it,” said Dianna Ramirez, who was look­ing for a tele­vi­sion at the Cross­gates Mall in sub­ur­ban Al­bany, New York.

Shamika Mal­loy of Al­bany was also there shop­ping for her four teenage chil­dren. Her must-have item a lap­top for a daugh­ter in col­lege. Mal­loy said she hadn’t yet shopped on­line but usu­ally does so.

“It’s better than com­ing in the store. If you do it on­line, you save and you can get it de­liv­ered right

to the house for free. Can’t beat that.” But she said she wouldn’t shop at as many places as last year. “Who­ever’s got the best deals, that’s where I go.”

This week­end is cru­cial to set the tone for the hol­i­day sea­son. Around 137 mil­lion peo­ple plan to or are con­sid­er­ing do­ing their shop­ping dur­ing the Thanks­giv­ing week­end, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted for the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion trade group. That in­cludes on­line and store shop­ping.

The Black Fri­day men­tal­ity and mar­ket­ing ap­proach has even crossed the At­lantic and is shap­ing shop­ping habits in much of Bri­tain. Many big box stores opened early Fri­day morn­ing while oth­ers fo­cused on cut­ting on­line prices or com­bin­ing the two. Some Swiss stores that have started of­fer­ing Amer­i­can-style “Black Fri­day” dis­counts on­line have seen their sites freeze, slow

down or crash un­der a surge in traf­fic.

With the com­pe­ti­tion for cus­tomers so in­tense, many stores were open Thurs­day evening in what they hope will be a new hol­i­day tra­di­tion. Re­tail­ers have also been spread­ing deals out more through­out the week which may have di­luted the shop­ping.

“It was a re­ally good start. But I have never seen Black Fri­day morn­ing so calm,” said Mar­shal Co­hen, chief in­dus­try an­a­lyst at NPD Group, a mar­ket re­search firm, who vis­ited malls on Long Is­land on Fri­day. He be­lieves the week­end’s sales will likely rise from last year be­cause shop­pers did lots of buy­ing, in­clud­ing pricey flat-screen TVs.

The Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion, the na­tion’s largest re­tail trade group, ex­pects hol­i­day sales to rise 3.6 per­cent to $655.8 bil­lion for Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, better than the 3 per­cent growth seen for those months last year. That ex­cludes car sales, gas and restau­rant re­ceipts, but in­cludes on­line spend­ing and other non-store sales such as cat­a­log spend­ing. On­line sales are ex­pected to be up 7 per­cent to 10 per­cent to as much as $117 bil­lion, com­pared to a 9 per­cent growth rate last year. That means that on­line sales could ac­count for 18 per­cent of over­all hol­i­day sales.

While many ma­jor re­tail­ers re­ported strong on­line sales for Thurs­day and Fri­day, they ac­knowl­edge they also are work­ing harder to lure shop­pers to stores.

Macy’s has been of­fer­ing

ex­clu­sive deals for its app users. Tar­get will be push­ing its Cy­ber Mon­day deals on Sun­day and spread­ing them to the stores as well as on­line, and CEO Brian Cor­nell thinks those days could be the busiest of the year. Saks Fifth Av­enue has started of­fer­ing concierge help on its web­site.

J. C. Pen­ney, a lag­gard in the on­line arena, is quickly catch­ing up un­der CEO Marvin El­li­son. Af­ter Pen­ney re­sumed sell­ing ma­jor ap­pli­ances this year in time for the hol­i­days, El­li­son, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at Home De­pot, says shop­pers come into the stores very in­formed about the prod­ucts. He also said a fo­cus on toys for the hol­i­days has also helped fuel traf­fic in stores and on­line.

Pen­ney also started its Black Fri­day on­line sales on Wed­nes­day in­stead of Thurs­day to com­pete better with on­line-only com­pa­nies.

Kohl’s, too, has also been heav­ily in­vest­ing in spruc­ing up its shop­ping app and pulling for­ward some

on­line deals. Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Mansell says on­line sales broke records for Thanks­giv­ing, but store vis­its showed solid growth as well. And Toys R Us, which saw strong traf­fic at stores and on­line, will be do­ing more on­line flash sales.

Both kinds of cus­tomers were at the Mall of Amer­ica in Min­nesota — which was closed on Thanks­giv­ing this year — on Fri­day morn­ing. Jen­nifer Cleve­land was hop­ing to tackle a shop­ping list of gifts for in-laws and some win­ter gear. It’s her sec­ond Black Fri­day shop­ping trip, and she came back to score some big deals.

“I came last year and dis­cov­ered sales are better than on­line,” she said.

But Julie Singe­wald, 44, said she was there merely as the ve­hi­cle — “and some­times the credit card” — as her daugh­ters shopped. Singe­wald is do­ing more of her own shop­ping on­line.

“I’m a point-and-click per­son,” she said. “If it were up to me, I would be in my pa­ja­mas and on my com­puter at home.”


A man pushes his cart filled with ap­pli­ances in the Tar­get store in Plainville, Mass., shortly af­ter the store opened at 1 a.m. Fri­day. Large-screen tele­vi­sions and small elec­tron­ics were among the pop­u­lar items pur­chased. Stores open their doors Fri­day for what is still one of the busiest days of the year, even as the start of the hol­i­day sea­son edges ever ear­lier.

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