News & Opinion


Just time to give thanks, then off to the sale as shops pull out the stops

The Times

November 26, 2011


The two women had come to a near- halt in Macy’s, as shoppers laden with bags thronged around them and sales assistants hovered to spray scent on their wrists.

“Why are we in here?” one said.

“I’ve had enough,” her companion groaned.

This week, Macy’s, one of New York’s most famous department stores, opened for the first time at midnight on Thanksgiving. By 9am the next morning, on Black Friday, the start of the Christmas shopping season, the store was packed with shoppers, “I wanted to get here early, because it’s going to get crazy,” said New Yorker Denise Baker.

While more shoppers were expected in US stores yesterday — an estimated 152 million, up from 132 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation — sales were only expected to increase by 2.8 per cent, marking a relative decline from the 2010 holiday season when sales rose by 5.2 per cent compared with 2009.

About 10,000 people had queued for Macy’s flagship store at midnight, spokesman Jim Sluzewski told The Times, drawn particularly to a Justin Bieber gift set for $65 that included the singer’s Christmas CD, fragrance and a code for a downloadable track only available if you bought the set. A small group of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators chanting anti-corporate messages, and a preacher condemning consumerism, made their presence felt.

Macy’s wasn’t alone in targeting the nocturnal shopper. Electrical chain Best Buy had also opened its New York stores at midnight, with 300 queueing to enter its Union Square branch, while the Times Square Toys ‘R’ Us opened at 9pm on Thanksgiving evening. The clothing store Old Navy didn’t even bother with a polite nod to tradition: it was open all Thanksgiving. One customer told a TV reporter: “I’m giving thanks, but there’s a good sale today.”

Stores attracted customers with “doorbusters” — particular items on sale for a set period at a dramatically reduced price — in the hope they would stay and buy more. Stacey Widlitz, a retail analyst, said she had seen shoppers with “carts piled high” in Best Buy with laptops and computers,

Tom Julian, another analyst, noted the transition of Thanksgiving Thursday into Black Friday. “An earlier start is very significant. Retailers are looking at more ways to encourage particularly among . . . By starting earlier, though, these retailers will have to keep engaging and offering sales daily to keep shoppers interested.”

Ms Widlitz said other stores would now follow the example of Macy’s and Toys ‘R’ Us. “The issue is whether stores are slashing prices to maintain their market share, but at a cost to profitability. One of their hopes is to create lasting loyalty from their Black Friday customers.”

Transatlantic visitors were out in force at Macy’s. Pauline Gavigan, a teacher from Donegal, said: “I’m wandering around like a zombie. They offer great discounts to visitors. I am willing to buy anything at this stage just to say I bought something at Macy’s on Thanksgiving.”

Shane Rutherford, from Cambridge, was carrying a bundle of jumpers and jeans. “I’ve left my fiancée in another part of the store, so goodness knows how that will end up. This is like Oxford Street, but double.”

The determination to beat others to bargains led to violence. In Los Angeles, at the San Fernando Valley branch of a Wal-Mart, a woman shopper pepper-sprayed fellow shoppers in a row reportedly triggered by others pushing in a queue to acquire the new Xbox. Fifteen people were hurt, ten treated for the inhalation of the spray.

Meanwhile, a shopper was shot and critically injured during an attempted robbery outside another Californian Wal-Mart in San Leandro. A woman was shot in the foot in another robbery attempt outside a Wal-Mart in South Carolina, while an explosive device was reported to have been found in a Wal- Mart in Arizona. There were reports of gunfire at the Cross Creek shopping mall in North Carolina.

For those daunted by Black Friday, this coming “Cyber Monday” sees the start of the online sale shopping season. A reported 80 per cent of internet sales take place between Black Friday and the weekend before Christmas. Last year, Cyber Monday generated a reported $1 billion in sales, compared with Black Friday’s $650 million.