BRADENTON – Is Black Friday becoming Black Thursday? Are the in-store deals really worth waiting for? Are shoppers getting better bargains online from home? University of South Florida marketing professors in the College of Business see a trend in which this year's Thanksgiving Day deals could become the norm.
Online shopping, the rise of the big box stores over traditional malls and other factors have been game changers for the retail industry in recent years. Because Black Friday is such an important part of their fiscal calendar, stores are always looking for a way to boost sales. The big trend this year seem to be retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day, including mega-volume big boxers Wal-Mart and Target.
USF Marketing Professor Dipayan Biswas said he thinks in a few years holiday shopping will migrate up to Thanksgiving, making it Black Thursday. Over the last few years, when retailers saw customers standing outside in lines, often starting Thursday night before store openings, or even earlier, they were reminded that those customers could be spending money inside the store instead of waiting in lines outside.
“It’s a mindset,” Biswas said. “According to conventional wisdom, if you give people more holiday shopping days, people might end up shopping more.”
Not to be outdone, online retailers are moving up their sales as well. Biswas noted that online sales that began on the Monday after Thanksgiving, or “Cyber Monday” are starting earlier.
Carol Osborne, a marketing instructor and former Cox Media vice president for marketing, said often the deals are simply $100 off on a B-list brand electronic item. Osborne said it's all about "perceived value" in which one person might see the value in waiting in line for hours to buy that item, while others might see more value in saving time than saving a relatively small amount of money.
"People think, 'if I don't buy this TV, I've missed out on all this value,' " Osborne said, "A lot of these shoppers are getting caught up in the hype. There are probably a small fraction who do research on prices."
James Stock, Distinguished University Professor and Frank Harvey Endowed Professor of Marketing, said the prices on consumer electronics look like they will be lowest in January and that the best deals of the holiday season may be online and not in stores. Online sales continue to grow every year, a trend that shows no sign of slowing.
“Why fight the mob?” Stock asked.
Stock also said retailers face a challenge during this period brought about by rising customer traffic -- increased return fraud.
Stock, who is a world-recognized expert in the field of product returns, said that unscrupulous consumers may dumpster-dive behind malls to find discarded or damaged products deemed unsellable, and then return them for store credits. It’s difficult for stores to tighten up on fraudulent practices during the holidays, when return lines are long and ease of returns is an essential marketing tactic. He compared it to a pickpocket being more successful in a large group than in a sparse crowd.
“At the Christmas season, you can’t monitor those things as well,” he said.
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