Early Deals May Eat into Black Friday Sales

November 19, 2015, 5:01 AM UTC
Shoppers Inside A Kmart Store Ahead Of Black Friday Sales
Shoppers enter a Kmart discount store, operated Sears Holdings Corp., as the doors open ahead of Black Friday in Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. An estimated 140 million U.S. shoppers are expected to hit stores and the Web this weekend in search of discounts, kicking off what retailers predict will be the best holiday season in three years. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg
Photograph by Luke Sharrett — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Retailers were eager to get an early start on Black Friday deals this year, lest they risk missing out on any business in an already competitive holiday season.

But a survey from the National Retail Federation released on Thursday suggests that strategy may come at a cost: the industry group found that a smaller percentage of shoppers plan to hit stores or shop online over the long Thanksgiving weekend compared to last year. Black Friday weekend is traditionally when the holiday season kicks into high gear, and it’s an important early indicator of Christmas shopping sales.

The NRF’s Preliminary Thanksgiving Weekend Survey estimated that 58.7% of holiday shoppers will probably or certainly go to stores that weekend, compared to 61.1% who had said they planned to in 2014. (Ultimately, 55% of respondents actually ended up shopping.)

Still, that would come out to about 135.8 million shoppers.

The NRF, which still expects holiday season sales to rise 3.7% this year compared to last year, says that 60% of people had already begun shopping by November 10, suggesting that a slightly slower Black Friday weekend might simply mean sales have been brought forward earlier in the season.

That was the case last year, when the NRF said retail sales over that key weekend fell 11%. In the end, retailers saw sales rise 4.1% in one of the best Christmas seasons in a while.

“We suspect early holiday shoppers could still be on the fence about whether or not to try their hand at finding online and in-store deals Thanksgiving weekend,” NRF CEO Matt Shay said in a statement. “The importance of Thanksgiving weekend to both retailers and consumers will never change.”

Retailers have already gotten aggressive about winning on Black Friday weekend.

Target, (TGT) Best Buy (BBY), and Walmart (WMT), among others, will offer Black Friday doorbuster deals online starting early on Thanksgiving. J.C. Penney (JCP) will open at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, its earliest opening ever and a full three hours before rivals like Macy’s (M) and Kohl’s (KSS).

After a string of dismal third-quarter financial reports from key retailers, among them Macy’s and Nordstrom (JWN), it’s easy to see why these stores are leaving nothing to chance.

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