Black Friday Internet Sales

Black Friday Internet Sales:

Caren Travis barely had cleared away her family's Thanksgiving Day dinner on Thursday when she left her Ringgold, Ga., home before dawn today for the next phase of her holiday celebration.

Mrs. Travis is scheduled to meet her friend, Vickie Jones, at 4:30 a.m. today for their annual pre-dawn shopping spree.

"We usually start at Walmart, then go to Hamilton Place and end up at Cracker Barrel for breakfast before going home and back to bed," she said. "We don't get a lot of sleep, but it's a lot of fun to get out there with all the other crazy people and see what bargains you can get."

Retailers hope economic worries won't deflate the Black Friday shopping tradition this year.

To lure shoppers into their stores for one of the busiest shopping days of the year, merchants are opening early, staying open late and offering sales throughout the weekend. By Sunday night, up to 77 million Americans will have spent $43 billion over the weekend on holiday-related gifts and merchandise, the National Retail Federation projects.

With unemployment above 10 percent -- the highest level in 26 years -- the average American is expected to spend 3.2 percent less than a year ago. Economists at the National Retail Federation estimate the average American will spend just below $683 on holiday gifts this year.

"Everyone is looking for sales and discounts," said Barbara Faucette, vice president of corporate mall marketing for CBL & Associates Properties Inc., the Chattanooga-based development firm that operates 89 shopping malls including Hamilton Place. "We're trying in our malls this year to make people aware of those values and also create memorable experiences with our special programs and attractions."


Although merchants usually ring up more sales on the Saturday before Christmas, they say this weekend sets the tone for the holiday season as consumers size up the fare. Retailers hope the sluggish economy won't be the Grinch that steals their holiday luster, and many are paring their inventories to make sure they don't end up with too many unsold goods.

"Holiday sales this year will probably be flat at best, but some items may sell out early if they are in high demand, because a lot of retailers are being very cautious with their supplies," said Bob Allsbrook, chief economist for Regions Financial Corp., which operates one of the biggest banks in Chattanooga.

Kristen Myers Waddell, a Memphis marketing consultant who will be shopping with her in-laws in Chattanooga today, is among the consumers who are likely to spend less this year.

"But I'm still looking forward to getting out with my family and seeing all the sales," she said. "I've never really shopped early on Black Friday before. I hope Starbucks is open at 4 a.m."

By 4 a.m., some local shoppers already will have hit their stride.

Old Navy is opening its two Chattanooga stores at 3 a.m. today, the earliest ever for the apparel retailer. In Calhoun, Ga., Prime Outlets opened its stores at midnight Thursday night for its second annual pajama party kickoff to the holiday season.

"Last year, we had 300 people in line waiting for prizes when the stores opened," said Janet Paulsen, general manager for Prime Outlets. "It's a real fun event for a lot of people."

The first 500 shoppers wearing pajamas will get a goodie bag of coupons and giveaways, she said.

Kmart and Walmart stayed open on Thanksgiving, although Walmart doesn't unwrap its Black Friday specials until 5 a.m. today.

Restaurants also are preparing for the early shopping blitz. Hardee's restaurant in Lookout Valley is opening an hour earlier than normal at 4 a.m. to accommodate the rush of pre-dawn shoppers.

"We're right next door to Walmart, so we decided to open early to help those who are starting their day early," said Kathy Nichols, general manager of the restaurant on Browns Ferry Road.

plan of attack

For Monica Cramer and her father, Jack Spurlock, today is D-Day for landing the best Christmas sales.

With 14 grandchildren, nieces and nephews to buy gifts for, the father-daughter team is eager to capture the best sales on toys, electronics and games, among other gifts.

Ms. Cramer, a communications specialist at BlueCross and BlueShield of Tennessee, said she and her father carefully plot and test their attack plan in advance to ensure they know where and when each item they want is available. After scouring the Internet for upcoming Black Friday sales, they visited local stores Monday to identify their targets. They spent most of Thanksgiving cutting out newspaper coupons and ads, putting them on note cards and studying their battle plan.

"Over the years, I think we have perfected the art of Black Friday shopping," Ms. Cramer boasts. "The key is to be prepared."

The pair lined up Thursday afternoon outside of Toys R Us for the midnight opening of the toy store. They planned to head next to Target before its 5 a.m. opening and then move on to Home Depot for that store's 6 a.m. opening.

To coordinate their attack, the pair even carry two-way radios to communicate their battle plan.

consumer caution

Even with extended hours and Black Friday sales today, most economists expect shoppers to splurge less this year in their gift buying.

"The era of conspicuous consumption is over, and I think we're seeing a real shift in people's buying habits," Dr. Allsbrook said. "Even though the recession is technically over, consumers are still worried about jobs."

Few economists expect as big of a drop in retail sales as the 3.4 percent decline of a year ago. Earlier this week, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy grew at a 2.8 percent pace on the third quarter, indicating the recession is over but the recovery may be weaker than in most business cycles.

The job market in Chattanooga also is better than in much of the nation. In October, the nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate in metropolitan Chattanooga was 8.9 percent, compared with the U.S. jobless rate of 10.2 percent, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox said retail sales, at best, are likely to be only flat with last year's levels and probably will be down slightly.

"Job losses are continuing to take place, so many people have less income and less confidence," said Dr. Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in Knoxville. "Consumers were really battered by lower home prices and stock values and, while they have come back, they are still a long ways from where they were.

"People are tight with their bucks during a time when they aren't getting many more bucks."


Today is dubbed Black Friday because for some jewelry, toy and other holiday-dependent retailers, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season today marks the point at which the stores begin to turn a profit for the year, getting out of the red and into the black.


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