Along with a celebration of food and family, Thanksgiving weekend has become an economic barometer driven by Black Friday, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.
“It’s supposed to be a really good weekend, and it’s supposed to be, in general, a really good holiday season,” said University of South Carolina retailing professor Marianne Bickle. “Part of that is because overall it is a good stock market year, and everybody looks at the stock market to see, how are people feeling? What are they doing? Are they spending? How are the gas prices? Overall, the economy is doing relatively well, and so people are feeling pretty good.”
Black Friday, when stores slash prices and open their doors in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving, has long drawn throngs of shoppers hungry for deals. While online shopping has lessened some of that fervor, a healthy appetite remains, Bickle said.
“Black Friday is still going to be a really important day for getting items at a deep discount price,” she said. “It is a real social event. We do it as a group and we do it as friendship, and you can’t do that online. It’s not the same thing.”
At least one firm that tracks retail shopper traffic, though, expects the day to lose its consumer crown this season. With post-Thanksgiving sales often beginning on Thanksgiving Day and more retailers offering year-round promotions, Black Friday has taken a hit, according to RetailNext, which predicted in October that Dec. 23 would eclipse Black Friday as 2016’s biggest shopping day.
“This year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, most shoppers will want to cut short their shopping early on Saturday, Dec. 24, leaving the day before – Friday – as retail’s biggest opportunity for sales,” RetailNext vice president of retail consulting Shelley Kohan said in a release.
According to ShopperTrak, sales on Black Friday fell to $10.2 billion in 2015, down 12% from the previous year.
Retailers have gotten creative in response, Bickle said, luring customers with coupons for coming in the door and more discounts for spending certain amounts of money. And with Black Friday expanding to non-traditional retailers such as car dealerships, it remains an ideal time for shoppers to stock up on needed items or to make a long-considered splurge.
“Now is the time to purchase it,” Bickle said. “Consumers need to look on the websites and in the newspapers for what retailers are offering special incentives on Black Friday, and there will be plenty of incentives.”
And the spending won’t stop there.
According to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Express, more consumers than ever are taking notice of Small Business Saturday, which follows on the heels of big box-heavy Black Friday and aims to promote smaller, local businesses.
Results of the survey, released Nov. 17, show that 58% of consumers are aware of Small Business Saturday, up from a previous high of 55% in 2015. Two-thirds (67% percent) said they planned to spend at least $100 at small businesses – a slight increase from 2015’s 65%.
“Small business retailers comprise 80% of our U.S. retailers,” Bickle said. “They promote our employment. They support our environment and our communities, and they just give us what we call the spice of life, something new and unique and creative.”
The Thanksgiving weekend shopping spree now extends to Cyber Monday, when many online companies offer incentives to consumers still in a spending mood. A National Retail Federation survey predicted that online sales will rake in as much as $117 billion this year, up to a 10% increase from 2015.
As online shopping has grown, so have security concerns. Experts caution consumers to closely monitor their bank statements and to never provide sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, on a public Wi-Fi network.
“Never conduct this type of confidential web browsing in common areas such as local coffee shops, airports or local restaurants, because these are favorite targets for criminals,” said Marwan Omar, assistant professor of computer science and information systems at St. Leo University.
Bickle also offered some common-sense advice to shoppers gearing up for Black Friday and beyond.
“Remember to keep a budget,” she said. “I always want to remind consumers that this is not the time to get into debt, and yet it’s easy to go wild.”