- Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
In an ever-changing retail landscape, stores big and small have tweaked their Black Friday plans this year to maximize sales.
For many, the days of throwing the doors open on Thanksgiving and welcoming shoppers for 24, 36 or even 48 hours straight are history.
Instead, a growing number of shopping centers and big-box chains decided this year to give bargain hunters a shot at door busters for a bit on Turkey Day, shut down during the not-so-lucrative overnight hours and then reopen bright and early on Black Friday.
Target, for instance, said it would shut down from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday. At Best Buy, the decision was made to close from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. Friday. Also on the list of retailers giving employees and shoppers a few hours to recharge: Macy’s, Sears, Ulta Beauty and Dick’s Sporting Goods, among others.
Austin’s Barton Creek Square and Lakeline malls are both a part of the trend, closing 1-6 a.m. Friday. The Domain will be closed Thanksgiving but will open at 8 a.m. on Black Friday – two hours earlier than usual.
Having extended hours — opening earlier and closing later — is crucial when it comes to accommodating shoppers this time of year, said Jana Griswold, area director of marketing for Barton Creek Square and Lakeline malls.
“Extended hours meet the needs of our family shoppers with busy schedules throughout the holiday season by giving them the flexibility to enjoy all each mall has to offer whenever it is convenient for them,” she said. “We welcome families to kick off the holiday shopping season during our extended hours.”
A lot is at stake for retailers during the holidays. In a year when many well-known brands have disappeared, it’s a make-or-break season for sure. The National Retail Federation, a trade group, says 164 million Americans are expected to shop this Thursday through Monday alone, all eager for bargains.
Total holiday sales, according to the National Retail Federation, are expected to go as high as $682 billion this year – a 4 percent increase over 2016, which is just above the five-year average sales growth of 3.5 percent.
As many as 550,000 seasonal jobs are expected to be created to handle all those shoppers. That’s down slightly from 575,000 seasonal workers last year.
JLL Retail, a division of commercial real estate giant JLL, was a little more optimistic with its sales projections – news that’s sure to make retail executives crack a smile.
“Consumer confidence is the highest it’s been in nearly 17 years,” said Greg Maloney, CEO of JLL Retail. “We expect that holiday spending will mirror overall retail sales trends, and anticipate that sales growth could reach as much as a 6 percent jump due to favorable economic conditions and the strength of the labor market.”
Looking at the Austin area specifically, Accenture Consulting reports that 46 percent of Central Texans surveyed said they plan to spend more on gifts this year, 43 percent will spend the same as in 2016 and 11 percent will spend less.
A key factor prompting Austinites to spend more this year, the firm said, is the number of people who say they have a good job. Among those spending less, gas prices were cited as the reason here more than in any other metro area surveyed, according to Accenture Consulting.
The average Austin shopper will spend $465 this holiday season – the lowest amount among the 15 metro areas Accenture Consulting surveyed. New York, by contrast, came in at $825 per person, topping the list.
Austin’s young shoppers are largely responsible for dragging that sales figure down. For example, members of Generation Z, which includes people born in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, said they would only spend $421, on average.
In a tech-savvy city like Austin, it should come as no surprise that Accenture Consulting found many shoppers – 54 percent to be exact – plan to do most of their shopping online, with 37 percent saying they’d stick mainly to in-store shopping.
While more and more people are buying gifts online, JLL Retail says brick-and-mortar stores remain crucial for a number of reasons.
“Consumers who plan to do the majority of their shopping online will still venture out to physical stores either to pick up purchases ordered online or buy high-end items they want to touch and test,” said James Cook, JLL director of retail research.
Many chains, such as Target and Macy’s, are even using their networks of stores to fill online orders this year, reducing shipping costs and speeding up delivery times.
At the Southpark Meadows Best Buy store in South Austin, workers like Joseph Lopez have spent months gearing up for these next few weeks – and this weekend in particular.
“We’re going to be on our toes making sure everyone gets out with everything they want,” he said.
Lopez, a Best Buy employee for about two years, said he expects cellphones, video games and smart-home gadgets to be especially popular with shoppers – many of whom came in days in advance to stake things out and get the lay of the land ahead of Black Friday.
“We have a lot of people who come in and ask questions,” he said. “They’re making a plan for what they want to get. I love that. It’s really smart.”