Stores Look for More Black Friday Traffic

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Goizueta faculty check in with thoughts on the holiday shopping season which started a bit earlier than the traditional date of "Black Friday." PHOTO: Chris22090/Flickr.com

It’s more than leftover turkey and football.

Commonly known as “Black Friday,” retailers have long used the day after Thanksgiving as an excuse to open doors in the early hours of the morning, offer attractive discounts or otherwise draw customers with unique giveaways and promotions.

But with each year sales tend to extend to the weeks before the fourth Friday in November, adding to the glimpse of Americana that is post-holiday shopping. Some stores in the Atlanta area revealed holiday decorations and started sales messaging nearly a month ago.

Susan Hogan, a marketing professor at Goizueta, said in a struggling economy stores are trying hard to get customers in the door.

“Retailers are trying to get our money now because they’re cash constrained,” she said. “The other thing that’s happened in the last year is we really don’t buy much unless it’s a promotion… The way to get us to do anything at this point is to put it on sale.

“There are some reports out suggesting businesses had a good quarter which helps increase consumer confidence and make people feel better. The problem is we’ve become much more sensitive to prices because we’re much more resources constrained. We’re slower to make decisions on products we don’t need right away; we’re much more price conscious.”

Hogan said consumers may keep price sensitivity even when the economy improves. Retailers haven’t helped themselves by sequestering the best sales in the final month of the year.

“Retailers have set the expectations on us — if you wait long enough it will go on sale,” Hogan said.

But given the nation’s slow economic recovery, sellers can’t afford to stick to the traditional calendar.

“Stores are leaving money on the table if they’re not having some sort of Black Friday event (Tuesday) or Wednesday,” said Tom Smith, a professor in the practice of finance at Goizueta.  “I have noticed a lot more of the giveaway or crazy discuont things at particular times. There were a couple of stores giving away iPads.

“People respond to incentives.”

This is a year for consumer wins, but a large infusion of holiday spending alone won’t pull the country out of the post-recession blues.

Smith said seasonal employment — and any consequential full-time jobs — could be a better barometer of economic recovery. An average or slightly rosy retail report from Black Friday would be nice while a decline would hit the psyche of consumers.

In other words, a Black Friday success story means little if it doesn’t push the market toward job growth. Unemployment in Georgia continues to hover around 10 percent. National unemployment currently stands at approximately 9 percent.

“The number of seasonal positions seem to be higher this year than last year,” said Smith, who also discussed the topic last week on CBS News. “There are some reports the seasonal jobs are up a substantial amount and the number of those jobs that will go from part time to more full time positions is also up. That signals, to me, everyone is anticipating it’s going to be a good season. Some firms are going to try to push that into the spring to turn seasonal habits into some more permanent types of habits.”

Any impact on the labor market — positive or negative — would be seen in January and February, according to Smith.

“The bigger picture is we’re in a recovery, we have real GDP growth, firms are profiting,” he said. “But it’s a jobless recovery. I would look for how many of these seasonal jobs turn into full-time psoitions and that would be a good barometer for me moving forward… If we see these jobs turn into full-time positions we’ll see unemployment start ticking down.”

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