Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner. Sleep in Friday. The deals will be ready when you are.
There’s no reason to rush out of your home for doorbuster sales — unless, of course, you enjoy caffeinated predawn sprints to store shelves. As the retail sector limps toward the end of a rough year, national chains are making it easier than ever to buy thousands of items at sale prices whenever and wherever you want them.
So-called Black Friday sales have been available for weeks and will still be going on well after your Thanksgiving leftovers are gone. Most of those deals, once more or less limited to the 24-hour period that followed Thanksgiving, don’t even require you to step foot inside a store, much less box out fellow shoppers who are competing for the items you want.
“I think this is probably one of the last holidays seasons where we’re going to see a traditional brick-and-mortar Black Friday,” said Brett Rose, CEO of United National Consumer Suppliers, a wholesale distributor of overstock goods for national chains. “Brick-and-mortar retailers need to stay ahead of the curve. Every day is Black Friday because consumers are so well educated as long as they have a smartphone in their hand.”
Consumers seem to be catching onto the changes. About 99 million people shopped in stores last year on Black Friday, down about 3 million from 2015, according to the National Retail Federation. Another decline in in-store shopping is likely this year.
Nonetheless, shoppers can still expect to find lines outside some of their favorite stores early Friday morning, if for no other reason than people have made a tradition out of Black Friday shopping. Just know that waiting in the cold is no longer essential to deal hunting. Most stores will offer the same products and prices on their websites, with free shipping in many cases. Virtually all major retailers unveiled their big sales days ago.
Black Friday shopping has been underway since the calendar flipped to November. Online retail giant Amazon.com Inc., for instance, has been posting so-called Black Friday sales since Nov. 1.
But Amazon’s competitors are catching up to it in terms of offering flexibility to shoppers. Many brick-and-mortar retailers, including Best Buy Co. Inc. and Meijer Inc., are offering same-day delivery for online orders through the holidays.
Meijer has expanded its grocery delivery service to include anything shoppers might want for the holidays, including Thanksgiving week sale items. Meijer partners with a third-party delivery company called Shipt to let people order products online and get them in hand the same day.
“The gifts, the hottest toys, the electronics, they’re available in a couple hours to you,” said Art Sebastian, Meijer’s vice president of digital shopping. “There’s no need to wait. We think that is a very compelling reason to use our service.”
People who request delivery from Meijer through Shipt can communicate with couriers while they fulfill orders. The delivery service comes with a fee that varies based on orders.
“We want to enable our customers to leverage technology and shop online anywhere and have those orders delivered to them when it’s less convenient (to visit a store), but we want to make sure we add a human element to that,” Sebastian said.
Best Buy also has started offering same-day delivery in 40 markets, including Indianapolis. Central Indiana customers who place orders by 3 p.m. can receive their packages by 9 p.m. for a fee of $5.99. Best Buy launched the service Nov. 14 and will offer it until Christmas Eve.
“We are excited about our plans for (the holidays),” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly said during the company’s Nov. 16 earnings call. ”Our teams across all functions are ready and keen to take care of our customers online, in our stores or in the customer’s home.”
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s plans for Thanksgiving week offer perhaps the clearest signs of how Black Friday is changing. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is doing away with some frenzy-inducing practices such as doorbusters that change by the hour. Wal-Mart also will no longer hand out wristbands to give early arrivals access to products that are in short supply.
Instead, Wal-Mart is making its deals available on its website at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving, hours before its stores will be open. The chain also is stressing there will be bottomless availability of products, meaning shoppers don’t need to rush into the store after Thanksgiving dinner or before the sun comes up Friday.
To the extent that Wal-Mart remains focused on the Friday after the holiday, company spokeswoman Anne Hatfield said it’s about meeting the expectations of consumers who still like to make an event out of post-Thanksgiving shopping.
“Black Friday is still an important day to many of our customers, so we want to make sure that we have the hottest-selling items in store, available for the folks who do want to come shopping in the store on Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving evening, Friday and all weekend,” she said.
The holiday shopping rush comes at the end of a year in which more than 6,400 stores have closed, according to a tally by Business Insider. The casualties have included former Indianapolis retailer HHGregg, which went bankrupt in March, and other big names such as Radio Shack, Payless, J.C. Penney and Sears.
The trend could resume in early 2018 barring a big fourth quarter for some chains. Toys R Us, which filed for bankruptcy in September, will keep its stores open for 30 consecutive hours starting at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving in a marathon push for profits.
But the healthiest retailers are toning down the crazed Black Friday events that have long been part of Thanksgiving weekend.
“Any retailer that is counting on that fourth quarter Hail Mary is already kind of on death’s door,” Rose said. “If you look at the retailers that will survive and are still going to be standing, it’s the off-price, treasure hunt play — Marshall’s, Ross, HomeGoods. They absolutely want fourth quarter sales, but it’s not going to make or break them.”
Big-box stores that are directing people toward their websites for Thanksgiving week sales, such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target Corp., are pointing to a future of dueling online bargains that replace the long lines of Black Friday.
“The beauty of what online retail has done is make it a level playing field,” Rose said. “All of a sudden, every item is a consumer commodity that trades in real time.”
Call IndyStar reporter James Briggs at (317) 444-6307. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesEBriggs.
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