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Festive Friday: Are merchants diluting the Black Friday magic?

black friday

Find an array of business angles to tackle in the retail promotions surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

We’re only one week out from Black Friday, the marketing gimmick that’s become an entrenched post-Thanksgiving retail tradition in the last 15 or 20 years, when consumers are wooed to mania by one-day promotions.  

This year it threatens to be eclipsed by Black Thursday, formerly known as Thanksgiving Day, but which aggressive merchants have decided is not too sacred an American tradition to prohibit getting a few hours’ jump on the competition.  This phenomenon, dubbed “Black Friday creep,” has spawned employee and consumer petitions, talk of boycotts and even protests from shareholders who, via Change.org, say they aren’t so keen for a buck that they begrudge store workers a day off.

This frantic “can you top this?” upping the ante by merchants is, it seems to me, diluting the whole notion of post-Thanksgiving promotions and could backfire either via poor PR or simply by convincing consumers that there isn’t really one super-special time to get great deals.  Ads are leaking earlier, sales are being offered online as well as in-store, as the Wall Street Journal reports — Amazon.com already is offering some — and in general the event isn’t quite what it used to be.   What I’ve often wondered it, do these manufactured events result in net additional sales, or do they merely shift planned spending?  And if consumers aren’t lured out to do extra impulse buying, will merchants ultimately lose by turning all of November into one big mushy Black Friday event? These are interesting questions to ask of retail executives and analysts in your region, and of shoppers as well.

Also, if you cover this from the consumer or personal finance angle, check out this recent ShopAdvisor survey that claims Black Friday is far from the best day for deals, at least on the 252 toys it tracked throughout the 2011 holiday season.  Here’s a link to the PDF of the full report; it’s quite an eye-opener and combined with input from local consumer advisers, bargain bloggers and so on, would form the basis for a contrarian story.

It’s actually getting so it’s hard to find a plain old any day in the months of November and December, with additional promotions tied to Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day, which this year falls on Dec. 17 to egg procrastinators into shopping.  Then there’s Boxing Day, or the day after Christmas, which also is an up-and-comer as customers flock in to exchange unwanted gifts, wield gift cards and snatch up marked-down clearance merchandise.

I like the Small Business Saturday angle for next week; it’s a promotion created by American Express, and endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which plans to promote small merchants’ deals via Twitter, Facebook and so on.  The two groups recently released a survey showing that Main Street merchants plan coupons, discounts, giveaaways and other gimmicks to lure customers during this “shop small” event on Nov. 24 — clearly this is ripe for a local round-up of your independent retail scene, along with a look at what malls and centers are doing to boost traffic.  MarketWatch, for example, reports that some shopping centers are offering reserved parking, refreshments and other perks to shoppers; valet parking and gift-wrap services also are popular.

Don’t forget about dollar stores, drug stores and other small general merchandise stores in addition to specialty shops.  And check out how some unlikely venues are trying to hop on the bandwagon — near me, a pool-and-spa shop and a regional hardware chain virtually become winter wonderlands in attempts to corner the seasonal decor markets.

If you cover tech, think Black Friday apps and social media; workplace writers can look into post-Thanksgiving absenteeism as well as the plight of retail employees run ragged this time of year.  One interesting seasonal jobs story I ran across:  RVers who get “workamping” jobs at Amazon.com distribution centers for the holiday.  If you’re near such a warehouse, check it out.

In Beats, Featured, Media | Advertising, Retail | Lifestyle, Small | Private | Non-profit, Story ideas, Technology.

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