Media Moves

Coverage: Black Friday deals and sales

November 28, 2014

Posted by Liz Hester

The day after Thanksgiving, which is known as Black Friday, is the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season as consumers scramble from store to store in search of deals. Malls are packed, and in recent years some discount retailers have begun opening on Thanksgiving to accommodate crowds and the early birds.

But many people are shunning the stores and turning online, helping boost sales, according to The New York Times story by Hiroko Tabuchi:

Big retailers, many of whom kicked off sales Thursday evening, reported brisk traffic overnight. Walmart said that 22 million shoppers streamed through stores across the country on Thanksgiving Day, more than the number of people who visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom in an entire year, the retail giant pointed out.

Tablets, TVs, sheets, children’s apparel and video games were the top five categories of the night, and Disney Frozen Snow Glow Elsa dolls was a top-selling toy, Walmart said. Best sellers online were video games, wireless prepaid phones, high-definition TVs and baby items.

Over all, about 140 million people are expected to shop in stores or online this weekend. That is more people than voted in the midterms earlier this month.

Still, as retailers jump-start their deals earlier and more sales move online,Black Friday itself is starting to fade in importance.

Casey Brefka, 28, who was waiting in line for Best Buy at Watertown, said he had grown up in Ohio, now lived in Allston, and wanted to see how the Black Friday scenes compared.

“I got used to the crowds in Ohio, so one of the things is like, ‘Oh, how many people are going to be here when we pull into the parking lot?’ And I was kinda disappointed. Like, there weren’t that many.”

Mr. Brefka, who works for the Department of Public Health, said he did most of his shopping online. But he showed up around midnight Thursday in hopes of landing a 50-inch Panasonic LED HDTV for $200 – a deal available only in store.

The Wall Street Journal story by Jeffrey Sparshott and Sara Germano took the angle of covering Black Friday from an economic standpoint and what it means for the U.S.:

The U.S. economy has grown strongly since stumbling at the beginning of the year. The holiday shopping season will help determine if 2014 ends with a bang.

American shoppers have a lot of reasons to feel more confident. Six months of strong economic growth have produced an upsurge in employment; wages are growing, if only barely; and a sharp drop in gasoline prices has put another $20 to $30 a month into most American’s wallets.

At the same time, consumers remain cautious. A rough fall led Macy’s Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to cut their financial forecasts, as a persistent decline in shopper traffic has left the industry jittery about a holiday season that is expected to rely heavily on profit-sapping discounts to drive sales.

The coming four weeks will be a test of how aggressively Americans are willing to spend and how much momentum the U.S. economy has going into the end of the year. That in turn is a crucial variable for a world economy that is relying more heavily on the U.S. as Europe sputters and once-fast growth in emerging markets like China slows.

Consumer spending is the biggest driver of economic growth in the U.S., accounting for more than two-thirds of output. Optimists can take heart that Americans always seem to find a way to splurge over the holidays. It may take more time, however, for the improvement in the economic backdrop to filter through to more confidence on the part of consumers.

Sarah Halzack wrote for The Washington Post that as more consumers made purchases online, stores were trying to reach them via mobile devices:

The scenes at major retailers have become a Thanksgiving Day ritual: Long lines, packed parking lots and shopping carts filled to the brim with bargain TVs and gaming consoles.

But while the clamor may look the same, retailers are facing a new reality this year as they kick off the holiday shopping season: The customers visiting their stores often started browsing long before they showed up, and for many, their actual purchase will happen long after.

Shoppers today ping-pong from physical stores to laptops to smartphones, and a purchase can come via any of these avenues at any time. As the lines blur between in-store and digital shopping, retailers believe they must win over these shoppers if they are to thrive in a fast-changing retail landscape.

To capture these types of customers, some retailers plan to blitz shoppers’ cellphones with coupons as soon as they step inside a store. Others are testing new delivery options that give shoppers more flexibility — and more chances to buy.

Isha Jordan of Beltsville, Md., started her “Black Thursday” by shopping on her smartphone, swiping and tapping on her iPhone to purchase a $279 Toshiba laptop from Best Buy. By 6 p.m., she had picked up her digital purchase at the store’s outpost in Columbia Heights in the District. It was a seamless process that she says allowed her to browse on her own time but still get the near-instant gratification of picking up the computer in-store, with no ­worries that it would be sold out.

Bloomberg’s Craig Giammona and Matt Townsend had a fairly straightforward story about who was shopping and when they got started:

Marshall was one of the 140 million Americans that the National Retail Federation expected to hit the stores or shop online yesterday through Sunday. The shopping rush kicks off a holiday season that the NRF forecasts will be the best in three years, helped by falling unemployment, rising wages and lower gas prices.

Shoppers seeking bargains yesterday had plenty of options. J.C. Penney Co. unlocked its doors at 5 p.m., compared with 8 p.m. in 2013. Macy’s Inc. and Target Corp. opened at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year.

“Being first is incredibly important,” said Pat Dermody, president of Retale, a mobile application that aggregates circulars from major retailers. “If you’re first, you’ve got customers who are full of spirit and full of cash.”

Many consumers already may have begun shopping as retailers experimented with spreading their deals throughout the week. Express Inc. began offering 50 percent off everything starting Nov. 25 through noon today, and Target rolled out pre-Black Friday deals of up to 60 percent off on some items.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is meting out its holiday bargains over the course of five days. The retailer’s “New Black Friday” event includes sales in stores and on that began at 12:01 a.m. yesterday and run through Cyber Monday.

“They took what was a small, compressed event and made a week out of it,” Rod Sides, who tracks retail for consulting firm Deloitte LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in an interview. “Everybody used to have a battle strategy. Folks are not as focused on Black Friday as they once were.”

The deals are as varied as the coverage. For retailers (and reporters who cover them) it’s one of the biggest days of the year. The all-important holiday shopping season can make or break as year as well as move the needle on U.S. economic growth. But seeing stories that were so varied makes for good coverage. Writing about everything from how retailers are changing the way they reach consumers to how their spending will affect data helps put the day into perspective from many different angles.

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