Black Friday's Mission Creep: When The Holiday Deals Are Elsewhere

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one the busiest, most hectic shopping day of the year. But how important is it for retailers and as an indicator of the strength of the holiday shopping season?

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It's official, the holiday shopping season has begun. In many ways, the term Black Friday is now obsolete. It's meant to describe the day retailers traditionally begin to turn a profit. But many of the door-buster deals started earlier this week and some stores and malls decided to open on Thanksgiving. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on this Black Friday mission creep and what it means for shoppers and retailers.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: For many people, it's kind of a new holiday tradition. After the dishes are cleared and the football game is on, out come the circulars.

ALLISON TEDDER: You have to look through the paper first and you have to see - map out what do you want and where you want to get it from.

GLINTON: Now that's one hard-core shopper. I should know. It's my big sister, Allison Tedder. She's all about strategy.

TEDDER: Decide which store...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And we all just, boom. You get this, this, this, and we...

TEDDER: Somebody goes to toys. Somebody goes to electronics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Electronics.

TEDDER: Somebody goes to house wares...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Appliances.

TEDDER: ...appliances. And then you get - and then you meet back at the register. And then you check out together and go. That how you're supposed to go.

HOWARD DAVIDOWITZ: It's basically insane and let's go over why.

GLINTON: Howard Davidowitz is a retail banker and analyst. He says, on average, most of the best deals come just before Christmas or immediately after.

DAVIDOWITZ: Do you realize that 70 set of door-busters can be bought online? They're online. So I don't think like these decisions are brilliant. But there's not - I mean, if people like it - and I think lots of people like, not your just family, millions of families.

GLINTON: Davidowitz says it's also not really good business for retailers.

DAVIDOWITZ: All you're doing is spreading the business over more hours. You're not going to do more business. They're just going to spend more money to be open.

GLINTON: So while my family went shopping, I went to the parking lot at the Target in Colorado Springs to talk to customers. And almost everyone understands that they could get a better deal online or later in the season. Janine Reed and her friends say they try to stick to the items on their list but, inevitably, they fail.

JANINE REED: Do you think I need sweaters at Kohl's? No. But they're 10 bucks. Do you think I'm going to get one? Yes. Well, they know how to get you in, huh? I mean, look at the candy aisle at the grocery store or at Walmart or any store that you go to, there's always candy right by the register? Why?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Because you're going to buy it.

REED: Yes, you're going to buy it. Same thing with the magazines. That's retail, it's marketing.

GLINTON: Across the country, in Chicago early this morning, Ketisha Riggs had driven from Detroit for deals and ended up meeting family members at the mall.

KETISHA RIGGS: I mean, it's costly but it's also just fun. And if you think about it, it's healthy because you're walking. So as a family, you're not sitting at the TV, looking at the sale. You actually walking and catching sales.

GLINTON: Walmart and other retailers have already declared a victory, announcing record sales. But it wasn't all fun and shopping. There were reports of an officer being injured at a Walmart in California, and a shopper was shot in the leg during a struggle with thieves over a TV at a Target in Las Vegas. There were also other reports of sporadic violence throughout the country. Among consumers out this morning, there were some signs of fatigue.

JENNIFER BENNETT: I'm against doing it on Thanksgiving.

GLINTON: Jennifer Bennett got to the mall in Atlanta, Georgia, at about 5:30 in the morning.

BENNETT: And yesterday, we really celebrated being together and our blessings that we had. And we just felt like it was not the time to see, oh, how much more can I get, you know? It was more about being blessed and being together as a family.

GLINTON: For the people who want Black Friday to remain on Friday, Marshall Cohen, chief retail analyst with the NPD Group says, eventually, they'll get their wish.

MARSHALL COHEN: To give away products at these door-buster lack of margin or profitable levels really doesn't help the retailer. At some point, some of the retailers are going to recognize that they can only offer them during certain hours and maybe even just online only.

GLINTON: Cohen doesn't think that'll happen for a few years yet, because, well, there's so much momentum towards opening early as brick and mortar retailers continue to feel the pressure from online shopping. You can always get it online. And each year, more and more consumers will do so. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Colorado Springs.

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