Marketplace: Black Friday, Bigger than Ever

Marketplace's Sam Eaton sets the scene for Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

And bargain hunters shook off turkey hangovers early today for the beginning of the annual shopping extravaganza called Black Friday. Some retailers actually opened at midnight hoping to get a head start on their competitors. Marketplace's Sam Eaton joins us.

Sam, do all these bargains in early hours actually add up to better sales for retailers? Does this work?

SAM EATON: Well, it depends on who you talk to, Alex. Black Friday actually got its name because it once marked the day when retailers went from being in the red to running in the black, or turning a profit. But it's really not thought of as the busiest shopping day of the year anymore. That honor now goes to the Saturday before Christmas. So, I guess, despite all the shoppers out braving the crowds today, we're really a nation of procrastinators at heart.

CHADWICK: You know, I was driving to work this morning and very early, around 5:00, there were hundreds and hundreds of people, I think, in line waiting for this Best Buy to open. It was just amazing. So, it is a day that seems very important to retailers, anyway.

Mr. EATON: It is. And retail analysts call it the ceremonial kickoff to the holiday season. So that's why you see all the hoopla out there. But it's not so much about actual sales, as it is about getting people in the doors of these stores. I talked to with Scott Krugman with the National Retail Federation. And he was saying that bargain hunters may be looking for a few deeply discounted items today like flat screen TVs and laptop computers. But he said they're also scooping out the rest of the store's merchandize and more importantly, its prices.

Mr. SCOTT KRUGMAN (National Retail Federation): You're leaving consumers with an impression. That's the one day that they're really making their list and checking it twice in the sense that they're getting a feel for what merchandize is out there and what the price points are. And if you're the retailer with the right merchandize and right price points, chances are the consumer is going to come back here throughout the season.

Mr. EATON: And you add all that up and retailers are expecting a 4.5 to 5 percent increase in holiday sales this year. The elephant in the room, of course, is being the slowing housing market and how this going to affect consumer spending, since many Americans use their homes and home equity and refinancings to boost their spending power. But when I was talking to Scott Krugman, he said it probably won't make much of a dent, since most people view holiday shopping as necessity spending. That, of course, worries consumer advocates who are thinking that Americans are going to be feeling financially hung-over, once these all blows over.

Coming up later today on Marketplace. Sure Black Friday may get all the attention. But it turns out today is also the biggest day of the year for plumbers. We'll explain why.

CHADWICK: I'm not sure I want to know, Sam. But thank you anyway. Sam Eaton of Public Radio's daily business show, Marketplace, produced by American Public media.

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