Black Friday Morphing into Thursday

USF marketing experts see the unofficial shopping holiday intruding even more on Thanksgiving in coming years.


By Hilary Lehman

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 19, 2012) – With a tradition as longstanding as Black Friday, retailers are always looking for new marketing gimmicks to energize sales, whether it’s big door-busters or earlier opening times.

USF marketing experts say the bid for customers’ attention often results in wide-scale trends, with retailers all looking to match competitors with low sales prices and stores that open doors earlier and earlier.

The big trend this year is stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, including Wal-Mart and Target.

USF Marketing Professor Dipayan Biswas said he thinks in a few years holiday shopping will migrate up to Thanksgiving, making it Black Thursday. Over the last few years, when retailers saw customers standing outside in lines, often starting Thursday night before store openings, they were reminded that those customers could be spending money inside the store instead of waiting in lines outside.

“It’s a mindset,” Biswas said. “According to conventional wisdom, if you give people more holiday shopping days, people might end up shopping more.”

While the herd mentality has pushed multiple retailers to move up opening times, JCPenney has moved in the opposite direction. The store announced it would be opening at 6 a.m. Friday this year, two hours later than last year’s opening time, apparently to give its employees time with their families. Biswas noted that what the store might actually be interested in is the good publicity from that strategy, as opposed to the outcry Target and Wal-Mart have received from opening on Thanksgiving.

Still, “it’s a risky strategy if customers are buying the night before,” Biswas said.

Online retailers are moving up their sales as well. Biswas noted that online sales that began on the Monday after Thanksgiving, or “Cyber Monday,” are starting earlier. Some stores, such as Sears, are moving them up as much as a week for their loyalty program customers, Biswas said, to give customers more chances to spend.


Carol Osborne, a marketing instructor and former Cox Media vice president for marketing, said the mass rush to stores is more about consumers emotionally buying into the Black Friday ad campaigns than looking to save money.

Often, the deals are simply $100 off on a B-list brand electronic item, she said. Osborne said it's all about "perceived value" -- one person might see the value in waiting in line for hours to buy that item, while others might see more value in saving time than saving a relatively small amount of money.

"People think, 'if I don't buy this TV, I've missed out on all this value,' " Osborne said. "A lot of these shoppers are getting caught up in the hype. There are probably a small fraction who do research on prices."

Jim Stock, Distinguished University Professor and Frank Harvey Endowed Professor of Marketing, said the prices on consumer electronics look like they will be lowest in January and that the best deals of the holiday season may be online and not in stores. Online sales continue to grow every year, a trend that shows no sign of slowing.

“Why fight the mob?” Stock asked.

But while the crowds for Black Friday may be as big as ever this year, it can be a double-edged sword for retailers.

Stock said brick-and-mortar stores face a challenge during this period brought about by rising customer traffic -- increased return fraud.

Stock, who is a world-recognized expert in the field of product returns, said that unscrupulous consumers may dumpster-dive behind malls to
find discarded or damaged products deemed unsellable, and then return them for store credits.  Sometimes, they can then get another item with a receipt and then return that item for a cash refund. Or, they might buy an electronics product, such as a computer hard drive, replace it in its original packaging with a cheaper item, and return the cheaper item in more expensive packaging for a profit.

It’s difficult for stores to tighten up on fraudulent practices during the holidays, when return lines are long and ease of returns is an essential marketing tactic. He compared it to a pickpocket being more successful in a large group than in a sparse crowd.

“At the Christmas season, you can’t monitor those things as well,” he said.


Hilary Lehman can be reached at 813-974-4281.