Retailers Use Early Promotions, Social Media To Entice Black Friday shoppers

By Virginia Bridges The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

RALEIGH

Chan Namgong officially kicked off his chase of holiday customers Monday by offering 25 percent off to VIP customers at his Bevello women's boutiques.

On Friday, Bevello, including the Cameron Village store first opened in 2009, will offer slashed prices on Tart cashmere sweaters and House of Harlow necklaces among other deals. That will be followed with other promotional sales on Saturday and Sunday. Beginning Monday, Bevello is offering free shipping on website orders through Dec. 1.

Bevello, with 24 locations mostly in the Southeast, is among the thousands of brick-and-mortar and online retailers using early sales and other promotions to better position their products in the holiday shopping season, which traditionally started on the Friday after Thanksgiving but has since expanded into an elongated, five-day (or more) shopping spree.

"It's all about the retailer trying to engage the consumer earlier and earlier," said Bill Martin, founder of retail traffic analytics company ShopperTrak. Friday traditionally marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season when retailers get into the "black," or make a profit for the year.

Black Friday is now followed by Small Business Saturday (founded in 2010 by American Express to boost sales at local retailers) and Cyber Monday (a term coined in 2005 by Shop.org, the digital retail division of National Retail Federation).

Some people call it holiday creep, but Martin said the trend is being driven by traditional and e-commerce retailers who are in a fierce battle to reach customers now accustomed to using mobile devices and online research to find the best deals first.

The number of stores opening earlier on Thursday increased again this year with Macy's announcing in October it would open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, while Best Buy and J.C. Penney plan to open at 5 p.m.

Walmart codified the elongated shopping spree in a sense when it announced "The New Black Friday" with sales that start Thursday morning on Walmart.com and extend to in-store discounts at 6 p.m. and continue through Cyber Monday.

Martin said Black Friday sales this year are likely to be cannibalized by both the extended shopping season and the late November start to the holiday shopping season. With Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, ShopperTrak predicts the Saturday before Christmas will be the biggest shopping day of the year, rather than Black Friday, which has held the position since 2005.

Super Saturday will take the prize for the highest traffic and sales, Martin said. Black Friday will be second in terms of most sales and third for most traffic. The Saturday after Christmas is expected to be the second-busiest day of the year in terms of traffic.

Still, according to consumers, Black Friday remains a bright star in the holiday shopping weekend.

Six in 10 people said they will or may shop either Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, which means more than 140.1 million shoppers are expected to hit stores this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation's Thanksgiving Weekend Expectations survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

The survey found consumers will spend on average $459.87 on gifts for their family, $80.00 on gifts for friends and $30.43 on gifts for the babysitter and pets. About 56 percent plan to shop online, the most in the survey's 13-year history.

For the eighth consecutive year, gift cards are the most requested gift item among those celebrating the holidays, according to the survey.

While Namgong is opening his three Triangle Bevello boutiques an hour early at 9 a.m. on Black Friday, he doesn't expect to pull from the hard-core shopping fanatics lining up outside the big-box stores.

His goal, rather, is to get on the top of shopping lists and to pull Black Friday customers in after lunch or after they go home for a rest.

Trend toward gift cards

Kathleen Newport and her husband, Michael, who own Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa in Cameron Village, are hoping to tap into the gift-card giving market.

Specifically, the owners hope to sell 400 gift cards during the first three days after Thanksgiving and an additional 500 before Christmas.

"We have been doing a ton to prepare," Kathleen Newport said. "We have absolutely loaded our retail section of our spa with gorgeous gift sets."

They also decorated the store, brought in some stocking stuffers and trained their staff of 18 to explain the spa's packages.

On Friday through Sunday, Hand and Stone is offering $20 off gift packages and a buy-one-get-one free offer in which customers will buy a gift card for a service and receive a complimentary message or a facial.

Embracing social media

On Monday, Hand and Stone will blast an offer across social media promising people who spend $99.95 a $20 promotional gift card through Dec. 31.

Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Merchants Association, said social media has been an effective tool for small independent retailers to promote their holiday deals as they get more and more creative in standing out against the much larger competition.

Newport and her husband bought into the Hand and Stone franchise earlier this year, opened a store in September and started preparing for the holiday shopping season almost from the get-go.

They plan to arrive at the store around 6 a.m. and finalize some gift bags before they open at 10 a.m.

To rest up, the couple plan to skip making the standard Thanksgiving feast at their home and have an early dinner at Irregardless Café.

"We going to go early, (come home) and watch movies and go to bed early," Newport said.

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