Black Friday is an unforgiving affair. Retailers duke it out, using middle of the night openings, limited-time promotions and mega sales as their weapons in the battle to grab as much share of consumers' holiday shopping budgets as possible.
This year, retailers are pulling out all the stops to attract shoppers during what is expected to be a ho-hum holiday season. Black Friday deals have already been released by a number of major players. And retailers from Macy's to Best Buy, Walmart to Kohl's have been touting earlier-than-ever-before store openings, leading to the coining of the ominous term, "Black Midnight."
As in years past, Black Friday is expected to be the busiest day of the shopping season, both in terms of sales and foot traffic. But even more shoppers than usual will be jumping into the Black Friday fray. According to the NPD Group, 17% of consumers plan to begin their shopping this weekend, up from 12% a year ago. And as many as 152 million people will be visiting stores and logging on to retail websites, according to the National Retail Federation. Some 74 million people say they will definitely be shopping, while 77 million say they are waiting to see if the bargains are worth battling the crowds. That's a significant increase over last year, when 138 million planned to shop during Black Friday weekend.
"A high percentage of people are planning to take advantage of sales, coupons and direct-mail offers, and a high percentage expect to be buying on sale. Value is important and particularly important in the economy we've been in for the last two or three years," said Ted Marzilli, senior VP-global managing director at BrandIndex. "For retailers it's a game of chicken: how low do they go and how soon."
Indeed, the retailers most likely to win over shoppers are those that are perceived as providing the greatest value. According to YouGov's BrandIndex, Amazon, Target and JCPenney are winning that battle, with the highest value scores heading into Black Friday. Kmart, Macy's and Toys R' Us didn't even make the top 10. Walmart, which has been heavily promoting its layaway program with TV ads, ranks only sixth.
In a shift from years past, Amazon, an online retailer, ranked at the top of the list. Mr. Marzilli pointed out that Amazon has been running "aggressive" promotions throughout the year and still does not collect sales tax.
"Certainly it helps if you've done things before now, because you can start to condition people to think, 'this is a store I should be thinking about,'" Mr. Marzilli said. "To start to change perceptions this late in the game, you really have to break through a lot of clutter. Everyone knows Black Friday is a few days away and there will be lots of promotions and advertising in the next few days."
Amazon is highlighting Black Friday deals in a dedicated area of its site and reminding customers that they shouldn't have to stand in line to get a good deal. "We're searching for the best Black Friday deals everywhere -- including Black Friday deals other stores are planning -- so we can meet or beat their prices and bring them to you even earlier," the retailer proclaims on its site. "These limited-supply deals will go quickly, but we'll add new ones throughout the day, every day, so you can skip the long lines and still save a bundle."
Target brought back its quirky, perky Christmas Champ, played to perfection by comedian Maria Bamford, for the third year in a row to promote its two-day Black Friday Sale. And JCPenney has been urging shoppers to "plan your attack!" with its Black Friday previews.