retail

Grey Thursday, Pre-Black Friday Rush Lures Really Early Bird Shoppers

Posted by Dale Buss on November 16, 2012 12:02 PM

The retail stampede is on, as early bird shoppers are being wooed this year to become pre-bird shoppers.

Whether Black Friday actually starts on Thanksgiving Thursday at 5:23 p.m., which is when eBay says it starts, or 9 p.m., which is when Target is opening its doors, doesn't really matter anymore. The fact is that America's biggest shopping day is getting a jump on itself, and there's no going back. Neither will retailers trying to get a jump on Black Friday by pre-positioning themselves with shoppers weeks ahead of time as they set their Black Friday plans.

Walmart already has released its Black Friday promotions online — buy now! — telling USA Today that it has bought so "deep" that it will have enough of some of the hottest electronics items — including iPad 2s — to satisfy shoppers who are sure to swarm their stores on Thanksgiving night while the day's slate of NFL games on TV is still playing itself out. Of course, retail workers are outraged, with charges of "pure greed" being bandied about, while at least one Walmart (in Bergen County, NJ) is being forced to close for two hours on Thanksgiving to give staffers a chance to gobble down some turkey.

Walmart and other bricks-and-mortar chains have been shifting more of their deals for Black Friday to the web for some time now. Staples plans to begin on Thanksgiving Day with some special mobile offers. The National Retail Federation projects that fewer Americans will brave physical stores this year than last year — but thanks to the deals and ease of shopping online, they'll spend more.

This year, eBay is encouraging consumers to shop their site via the mobile web. In fact, at eight Bliss Spa locations around the US, eBay will be treating consumers to free manicures, pedicures and foot massages while they're encouraged to let their fingers do their walking through Black Friday.

Target has a comprehensive program to get people to its stores on Black Friday. It's "all about the deal that day," says Kathee Tesija, EVP of marketing, in an online video in which she describes some of Target's "amazing door-busters" just for the occasion.

The chain's overall holiday efforts include a campaign that features ads with a singing duo who steer shoppers to the biggest bargains. Invisible to actors in the TV spots, the duo are "livelier Jiminy Cricket — a shopping conscience steering you in the right direction," as Target refers to them in its blog. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel explains Target's 2012 holiday stance in another short online video.

The chain will have to hope that its new ad campaign is more effective than its story-within-a-story advertising serial that was woven in with the most recent episode of ABC's Revenge. In partnership with Neiman Marcus, the 10 minutes' worth of ads showed off some impressive attire, to be sure. But devoted watchers of the show may have been thrown off by the obvious disconnect between the characters involved in the ads, and their interplay, compared with their personas and interactions on the show.

But nothing that Target is doing is as strange as what JCPenney is doing. The beleaguered chain, its sales plummeting, is continuing to insist that it is swearing off sales, discounts and other traditional, pedestrian forms of consumer enticement. And yet, you guessed it, for Black Friday, at least, Penney even under new CEO Ron Johnson can't resist a little bit of old-fashioned promotion.

So, Penney will preserve two holiday staples from "the old days": Black Friday and Cyber Monday which, Johnson told USA Today, this year promise "the lowest prices ever in the history of our company." That certainly sounds like a typical come-on.

Nevertheless, Johnson also points to an innovative new-style promotion in which, beginning Black Friday, JCP employees will hand out more than 80 million small, holiday-theme buttons to customers. Each has a code on the back that, when entered on Penney's website, reveals whether a customer has won prizes such as a trip to Disneyland.

"Instead of mailing out millions of coupons, we'll be handing out millions of buttons," Johnson told the newspaper in what ranks as a dubious semantic sleight by the man who promised that Penney's would vanquish the types of promotions that other retailers cling to, in favor of a strategy of everyday low prices and making stores irresistible in other ways.

On Black Friday at least, many retailers just want to give the customer some deals, even if there's a handful who boycott the early start. Despite the fact that more store employees and sympathetic consumers are petitioning Target's CEO on Change.org to "save Thanksgiving," many shoppers can't wait for Black Friday to start either.

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