One of the biggest shopping days of the year could be more bleak than black.
Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, known in the retail trade as Black Friday, stores extend their hours and offer “door-buster” red-tag specials on a wide selection of merchandise. And this Friday, bargains are going to be even more plentiful and seductive.
But amid a continued economic crisis -- and after weeks of heavy markdowns and promotions designed to drive sales -- more consumers might opt to sleep in rather than wait in line to shop.
A disappointing Black Friday would be a major blow to retailers that are counting on holiday sales to pull them out of a months-long sales slump. Analysts are predicting a spate of retail bankruptcy filings in January.
“Black Friday is everything to retailers,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of consumer behavior firm America’s Research Group. This year, “the entire future’s on the line.”
Some experts said falling fuel prices and pent-up demand could result in a high shopper turnout. But even a successful day after Thanksgiving would probably not be enough to save what is expected to be the worst holiday shopping season in years.
As usual, there will be treats for the early birds. Best Buy Co. and Toys “R” Us Inc. are opening stores at 5 a.m. again with promises of big promotions. And many retailers are gambling with even earlier store opening hours.
Disney Store will open half its roughly 230 U.S. and Canada locations today at midnight, up from just 5% last year, said Paul Gainer, vice president and general manager of retail operations for Disney Store North America.
The midnight openings include stores in Glendale and Montebello.
“We felt that was a key strategic objective this year, to offer that convenience,” Gainer said. “We certainly felt like we were going to maximize every opportunity.”
And some other stores aren’t waiting until Friday either.
San Francisco-based Gap Inc., parent of the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy chains, will open 80 stores today, double the number of their Thanksgiving openings from last year.
“We know it’s a difficult environment, and we know our customers are looking for the best value for their dollar,” said Louise Callagy, a Gap Inc. spokeswoman. “We are doing what we can to compete.”
In addition to extended hours, retailers are rolling out even more promotions on Black Friday, including discounts on entire purchases.
Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. is offering its early-bird shoppers 20% off their total bill from 6 to 10 a.m. Friday, and Macy’s Inc. customers can redeem a special “savings pass” -- good for $10 off a $25 purchase -- from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Kohl’s Corp., which again will open its doors at 4 a.m., will offer 300 early-bird deals Friday until 1 p.m., 20% more than last year.
Specials include 40% to 50% off designer women’s apparel and 50% off the chain’s entire selection of toys.
“We recognize the economy is challenging and there is less to go around this season,” Kohl’s spokeswoman Vicki Shamion said. “We’re positioning ourselves to gain market share by offering tremendous deals and more frequent values.”
The holidays are a crucial time of the year for retailers. The nickname Black Friday is linked to a myth that the day after Thanksgiving marks the day retailers begin making profits and move into the black.
More recently, online merchants coined the term Cyber Monday for the Monday after Thanksgiving, when they tout free-shipping offers and Web-only specials.
But will it all be enough?
With consumers more worried about their mortgages, jobs and 401(k)s than what to put under the Christmas tree, nervous retailers have resorted to desperate measures in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. Even luxury retailers have held massive sales to move merchandise and attract shoppers.
At Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills last week, thousands of women packed the store, which was offering discounts of as much as 70% on Marc Jacobs handbags and Prada shoes -- a deal many shoppers said they’d never seen before.
“This is the biggest madhouse I’ve seen in my life,” said Michelle Klein, a student from Sherman Oaks, as she waited to try on half a dozen pairs of designer shoes at Saks last weekend. She didn’t plan to shop on Black Friday.
“If you have this, why would you? There’s no point,” Klein, 24, said. “These deals can’t be beat.”
Another problem: the lack of a “must-have” gift. Shoppers flocked to electronics stores for GPS devices and Nintendo Wii consoles in 2007, but there doesn’t appear to be a hot item this year.
“Where is this holiday’s GPS?” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group. “So far nothing has surfaced.”
With just hours to go before doors open for Black Friday, Macy’s West Chairman Jeff Gennette said he was hoping for a good turnout but realistic in his expectations.
“We’ve spent a lot of time making sure we have the sharp values,” Gennette said. Still, “we’re conservative, and I think that’s the way you have to be in this.”
Of course, there are some shoppers who will always turn out on Black Friday regardless of the economy.
Jacqueline Hurwitz, a marketing professional from Los Angeles, said despite taking advantage of some major sales recently, she still planned to hit the stores Friday.
“I don’t like Black Friday,” she said, “but it’s like the necessary evil.”
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
66 million - People who shopped on Black Friday in 2007.
1 in 4 - Shoppers at stores by 5 a.m.
$347.55 - Average spent from Thursday through Sunday.
1 in 4 - Shoppers who bought toys
Source: National Retail Federation