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TV ads to be ‘retargeted' on to smartphones

 

By Shannon Bond in New York

 

The idea of shutting up shop on the biggest day of the American retail calendar — Black Friday — is considered by most stores to be utter madness.

 

But that is exactly what REI, the privately held outdoor sports chain, will do on Friday, when it is giving its staff a paid day off, encouraging them to spend it outside.

 

The decision has been greeted in part as a canny marketing move. The media coverage generated by REI's novel move has allowed the consumers' co-operative to spread its brand far beyond its core “hardy outdoor” target market.

The company timed it perfectly — announcing it at the end of October, ahead of anyone else's Thanksgiving/Black Friday news,” says Michelle Grant, head of retail at Euromonitor.

 

But REI's decision to close has also highlighted signs of consumer fatigue emerging both in the US and UK.

 

The four-day Thanksgiving weekend generates roughly $50bn in revenues each year, according to the National Retailers Federation, but those sales have been falling for the past two years.

 

For now, bigger retailers have not dared follow suit. General retailers such as Walmart spend all year preparing for the unofficial start of the holiday season, when aisles are often packed with frenzied shoppers, some of whom have in the past resorted to violence to secure bargains for, say, a high definition television.

 

Store openings on Thanksgiving Day itself and the increasingly early start to promotions — Walmart and Target started theirs on November 1 — are making consumers question whether it is worth scrapping with fellow bargain hunters to get that TV much cheaper, when it might be possible to buy it for a similar price in a less frenetic environment a few days earlier or later, analysts say. And the shift to online is only intensifying.

 

Black Friday should remain a key driver of holiday season sales……That said, in light of the heightened promo environment and deep discounts already seen in stores, the day will continue to decrease in overall significance, as the ever-present discounts cause sales to become more dispersed across the season,” says Randal Konik, an analyst at Jefferies.

 

A relatively new concept in the UK, Black Friday promotions hurt margins and cannibalised December sales last year, prompting many retailers to slam on the brakes this year.

 

Chaotic scenes of shoppers competing for bargains last year went viral on social media and has prompted Walmart-owned Asda to say it will not participate in the event this year. The retailer said of its decision that “customers have told us loud and clear that they don't want to be held hostage to a day or two of sales”. Other UK stores have said they too plan to shun or scale back Black Friday promotions.

 

Still, Visa Europe estimates that Britons will increase spending on Black Friday to ?1.9bn this year from ?1.75bn,as knowledge of the sales spreads.

 

In the US, nearly 50,000 people have signed a petition to urge JC Penney to keep its doors closed on Thanksgiving and allow its staff a chance to enjoy the holiday with their family.

 

Retailers from Walmart to Target to Macy's are all pressing on with another year opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, as well as the traditional Black Friday.

 

Others, such as Staples, Nordstrom, Costco and TJX, are among stores that will not open on Thanksgiving Day. This decision has garnered much support from consumers. At the bottom of a site displaying a list of companies staying shut on the national holiday, Jackie Bowman-Helton wrote that she refuses to shop at stores that open on Thanksgiving, while Lisa Kahn wrote this day “shouldn't be about the almighty dollar!”

 

California State Parks and Save the Redwoods are offering free passes in many of its parks in an effort to create a new uncommercial tradition on Black Friday. So many people have signed up for them that 25 of its parks are already at full capacity on November 27.

 

The small but perceptible shift away from Black Friday mania comes as many retailers have experienced slow third-quarter sales, leaving them with high inventories pushing into the holiday season.

 

Michael Silverstein, senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, is pessimistic about the shopping season as a whole this year. The consultancy's annual survey of more than 10,000 consumers suggests it is lower income millennials who will dominate the Black Friday sales. He says that many plan to stick to a shopping list rather than be lured into making impulsive purchases.

 

Black Friday is a “very bad disease for retail” and he adds: “That big sucking sound you can hear is margins going out the window.”

 

With additional reporting by Aliya Ram in London

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