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Black Friday starts earlier and earlier as merchants don't want to lose chances to boost bottom lines

The calendar has put the squeeze on the official start of the holiday shopping season this year, with Thanksgiving Day arriving the latest it can in any year.

That means six fewer days to shop for Christmas.

But that might not be an issue. Shoppers have been getting information about Black Friday deals for weeks.

“Consumers don’t wait for Thanksgiving or Black Friday anymore, and neither do retailers,” said Phil Rist, the executive vice president of strategy for Prosper Insights & Analytics, an Ohio company that analyzes data from various sources to predict consumers’ future behavior.

“Retailers responded this year by offering promotions earlier than ever, with some rolling out holiday deals even before Halloween,” Rist said.

The National Retail Federation has responded to the earlier shopping trend by expanding the holiday shopping season from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.

The retail foundation’s consumer shopping survey found that 56% of respondents began buying gifts by the first week of November. That’s up from 48% who had already started at the same point a decade ago.

However, those shopping sprees only represents about a quarter of the money that respondents planned to spend. Only 4% reported being finished with shopping.

The federation’s latest forecast is that overall holiday retail sales will be between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion, up about 4%.

“Thanksgiving is still a hallmark of the season, and there’s billions of dollars in shopping still to come,” said Matthew Shay, the federation’s president and chief executive. “But many consumers have already been shopping for weeks, and retailers are increasingly adapting to that,” Shay said.

Opening on Thanksgiving Day

In Winston-Salem, the majority of big-box department stores and discounters on Hanes Mall Boulevard and some department stores in Hanes Mall are opening between 2 and 6 p.m. today Thursday.

Stores with their own public entrances can set their own hours, but mall common areas will not be accessible today, Thursday.

Hanes Mall, like all other shopping centers owned by CBL & Properties will be closed Thanksgiving Day for the fourth consecutive year, opting to start Black Friday at 6 a.m. Friday. The Thanksgiving-closing decision affects about 2,500 people who work at the mall.

“Hanes Mall retailers are heading into holiday following a year-over-year sales-growth trend,” said Sarah Kotelnicki, the marketing director for the mall and Friendly Center in Greensboro.

”While predictions are always difficult to make, this third-quarter trend, coupled with National Retail Federation reports that current economic data suggest a much stronger holiday season than last year, we anticipate a successful end to 2019,” Kotelnicki said

According to online shopping research group RetailMeNot, the shortened time frame has led 14% of shoppers to report being stressed about completing their holiday shopping on time, 28% to make their first holiday purchase sooner, and 34% to start looking for deals earlier in the season.

“Shoppers are getting savvier every year when it comes to holiday preparation,” RetailMeNot’s Sara Skirboll said

“They are deal hunting, comparison shopping and they’re choosing not to spend all their holiday budget solely in November and December,” Skirboll said. “It was surprising to see our survey results showed more individuals buying gifts in July.”

EMarketers forecasts overall U.S. retail sales will climb 3.8%, to $1.01 trillion, making it the first-ever trillion-dollar holiday season, while U.S. retail e-commerce spending will rise 13.2%, to $135.35 billion.

“With low unemployment, a rising stock market and historic low interest rates, this holiday shopping season should be very good with year-over-year sales rising 4%,” said Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

“Online buying will take up an increasing share of sales, and may even outpace brick-and-mortar store sales for the first time,” Walden said.

Millions of shoppers

The National Retail Foundation projects that 39.6 million consumers nationwide will shop on Thanksgiving Day, 114.6 million on Black Friday, 66.6 million on Small Business Saturday, 33.3 million on Sunday and 68.7 million on Cyber Monday.

At least 43 prominent retailers will be closed today, Thursday, including Academy Sports, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Burlington, Costco, Crate & Barrel, Dillard’s, Gander Outdoors, Home Depot, Lowe’s home improvement, Marshalls, Office Depot, Pier1 Imports, Publix, Sam’s Club, Staples, Stein Mart, TJ Maxx and Trader Joe’s.

However, most of those retailers are offering online sales on Thanksgiving Day to capture some potential purchases.

Reversing their past stances, Bed Bath & Beyond and GameStop returned to being open on Thanksgiving.

Closer to the Triad, a recent High Point University Poll found that 38% of North Carolinians plan to shop on Black Friday, while 53% said they would not. The survey did not ask about Thanksgiving Day shopping plans.

By comparison, 31% in the 2018 poll said they would shop in Black Friday; 59% said they would pass.

The poll found that 33% plan to split their shopping between brick-and-mortar stores and online vendors, while 32% said they would do the majority of their shopping online and 24% said the majority in stores

“Compared with the 2018 survey results, respondents indicated that overall shopping and the level of brick-and-mortar shopping will be about the same, so the increase could simply be more online shopping on Black Friday,” said Daniel Hall, the chairman of HPU’s economics department.

About 54% of poll respondents said they’ll spend the same amount of money on the holidays this year compared with last year. About 22% said they will spend more. Respondents on average expect to spend a combined $949 on gifts, food, decorations and other holidays items.

About 31% of respondents say the holidays bring more stress to their lives, while 10% say the holidays lessen their stress levels.

It’s own season

Black Friday traditionally marks the day when many retailers begin turning a profit for the year and their financial numbers shift from red ink to black, hence the name Black Friday.

Some economists say Black Friday has become its own season, starting before Halloween displays are gone.

“Retailers are capitalizing on the excitement the term Black Friday sale generates,” said Roger Beahm, the executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem.

“They are leveraging it into the three-plus weeks proceeding the actual day itself, just as Christmas is not just a day, but also a season,” Beahm said..

“Waiting until Black Friday itself to announce Black Friday sales can mean leaving a meaningful portion of shopper dollars on the table for competitors,” he said. “Merchants have learned the hard way that hesitation means opportunity loss.”

Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, projects that “consumers are going to spend fairly freely this holiday season.”

“The economy is strong. Jobs remain plentiful, and wages are rising for more workers than any other time during this expansion,” Vitner said.

“The compressed holiday season should keep retailers busy even with a larger proportion of spending going online,” he said.

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said, “Retailers, however, are still on edge given the continued trade frictions between the U.S. and China.”

“But if there is a resolution to that before the end of the year, this economy could gather up steam going forward.”

Top shopping days

Despite all of the Thanksgiving Day shopping hype, RetailMeNot said it was just the sixth-most popular shopping day in 2018, trailing Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Dec. 26, Small Business Day on Saturday and Christmas Eve.

Skirboll said 45% of Black Friday shoppers are expected to complete the majority of their shopping online this year, up 31% from last year.

“While many Americans do not view stores deciding to open on Thanksgiving in a favorable light, the fact is many major retailers just cannot afford to close,” said Phil Dengler with BestBlackFriday.com.

JLL Retail said the majority of consumers — 57.3% — will make at least one brick-and-mortar purchase, whether in-store, picking up an online order or through the retailer’s website. About half of consumers are expected to use their smartphones to make at least one purchase.

The retail federation’s Shay said younger consumers are significantly more likely to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Among those ages 18-24, 88% are likely to shop, compared with 84% of those ages 25-34 and 69% of holiday shoppers overall.

Shay said about 47% of shoppers plan to begin their holiday spending at brick-and-mortar stores, while 41% will start online.

According to EMarketers, “The largest online and big-box retailers appear well-positioned for the 2019 holiday season.

“With fast shipping at a premium during the compressed holiday season, retailers like Amazon have an advantage for online deliveries, while those with advanced click-and-collect operations, like Walmart, Target and Best Buy, will also get a leg up on the competition.”

Ask SAM: Questions about Thanksgiving? We have answers

Q: Why is Thanksgiving always celebrated on a Thursday rather than on a specific day of the month?


Answer: It worked out that way mainly because the first observance of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was on a Thursday.

In 1789, Congress requested that President George Washington select a day for public thanksgiving and prayer. He selected Nov. 26. For several years, Thanksgiving was celebrated unofficially on Nov. 26. That celebration was eventually discontinued.

In the 19th century, Sarah Hale, a magazine editor, started a campaign for a national day of thanksgiving. She spent nearly 40 years on her crusade to get Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. Because Nov. 26, 1789, the date Washington had proclaimed, fell on the last Thursday in November, that is the date Hale petitioned for.

Public support led President Abraham Lincoln to take up Hale’s suggestion. In 1863, Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, Congress passed a joint resolution making it official that Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November.

Q: Is it true that the Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Christmas? If not, then why did they celebrate Thanksgiving?


Answer: Many of the Pilgrims who began colonies in New England held to the Puritan custom of shunning pagan customs, as well as some Church of England celebrations, including Christmas.

“They hated Christmas,” said Kathleen Wall, a historian at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, which includes a re-creation of the original colony.

The Pilgrims brought with them the tradition of a harvest celebration and a religious day of Thanksgiving. These two days were separate, but over time the celebrations merged into what we think of as Thanksgiving.

What we think of as the first Thanksgiving, held by the Pilgrims and the nearby Wampanoag Indians in 1621, was not called “Thanksgiving,” nor was it meant to be a yearly occurrence. It was a celebration of the colony’s survival of the previous winter with the help of the Indians. It lasted three days and took place in late autumn, though the exact date is unknown.

Christmas was not a major holiday in the U.S. until the 19th century, according to Wall.

Q: What was eaten at the first Thanksgiving? For instance, how was the corn fixed?


Answer: The exact menu is unclear, but the corn probably would have been served as porridge or in a form similar to what we think of as grits, according to Wall.

The type of corn that was being grown at that time was flint corn (Zea mays indurata), also known as Indian corn and would not have been served “corn-on-the-cob” style. It is not sweet, and would have been dried and ground instead.

It is also possible, Wall said, that American Indians attending the feast would have brought some of their own dishes with corn in them, including succotash and nasaump, a dish made of coarsely broken corn boiled with fruit added to sweeten it, or sometimes cooked with cranberries or wild mint.

In a letter dated Dec. 11, 1621, a colonist named Edward Winslow wrote:

“Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown.”

“Corn for Englishmen was the grain they grow the most of,” Wall said. “It could be rye. It could be wheat. It could be oats.”

What we think of as corn, she said, “is a brand-new grain for them.”

The barley most likely would have been used to make beer, a staple of the Pilgrim diet.

Even beyond the corn, the menu from that first Thanksgiving would have been different from what we traditionally think of today.

It is known that the Wampanoag brought along five deer for the feast, so venison was on the menu.

Gov. William Bradford wrote that the colonists provided as much wild fowl as would serve the company a week but ate it in three days. Most likely they were referring to waterfowl.

Since the colonists were close to the ocean, fish was probably on the menu, which could have been roasted, fried or boiled. Bradford specifically mentioned cod and bass in his writings about the history of Plymouth.

According to an article from National Geographic Channel, lobster and mussels were abundant at the time and were likely on the menu, as well.

Rabbits were likely on the menu, and kidney beans cooked with bacon may have been, too. Squash that had been boiled or roasted also may have been included, according to National Geographic.

There would have been no potatoes, cranberry sauce or sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pies.

Pumpkins (known as pompions) and other gourds were grown by the Indians, and may have been cooked and stewed like apples. But since the wheat crop had been poor, “you don’t have the wheat flour so you don’t have pastries, “ Wall said. “So pies are one thing that’s absent in 1621.”

Navigating Thanksgiving gatherings around politics

At this year’s Thanksgiving table, it’s OK to pass around the mashed potatoes, turkey and macaroni and cheese, but it might be best to pass up the urge to talk politics given the political polarization in this country.

“I think at Thanksgiving, no one wants to be the turkey,” said Sam Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University.

By turkey, he means “fried or frying other people.”

“I think it’s always best to probably stay away from politics and other topics maybe like religion that may bring up controversies or disagreements between people,” Gladding said.

So what do you focus on instead?

And what do you do when Uncle Curtis just can’t stop himself from bringing up everything political?

Give thanks

Amber DeBono, associate professor of psychology at Winston-Salem State University, said people should turn to other topics.

“Focus on your work, your friends,” DeBono said. “Focus on what you’re thankful for because that is what the holidays is about.”

In addition to being thankful, Gladding recommended that people be grateful and gracious this time of the year.

“Enjoy the positives of one another rather than those aspects of life that may divide us,” said Gladding.

He referenced lyrics to the classic “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

“While I don’t believe you can always eliminate all negatives, I think you can accentuate positives, and people are happier with each other and usually happier with themselves,” Gladding said.

Set ground rules and boundaries

Let people know up front what the ground rules are during the gathering.

“When people know the ground rules, they are much better mannered and experiences turn out much better than if it’s kind of a free for all,” Gladding said. “Just like in athletic events or artistic expression, some rules can guide us to be better than we are.”

He said that it is fine for people to be passionate about their political affiliations, “being blue or red,” for example, but it’s probably best to steer away from what might get people’s dander up.

He suggested saying, “For this occasion there’s a time out. You cannot cross that line because this is a political free zone.”

What about the rulebreakers?

Gladding said to let people know they’ll get penalized if they cross that line, but keep it light.

“We might have some cutout paper turkeys,” he said. “You don’t want to be the person that gets the turkey pinned on you.”

To avoid guests possibly getting indigestion, he also advised making an agreement before the Thanksgiving meal with those folks you know will break the rules.

“Even if you have somebody who is really ornery, get them to sign a little slip of paper like ‘I will not bring up politics.’” Gladding said. “Something fairly mild, but you could have it, and if by chance they get out of line, you can just kind of hold it up and say, ‘Remember our agreement?’”

He recommended no more than four rules with the main one being to ask folks to talk about themselves in a nonpolitical way or to invite others to talk about themselves about such topics as career, friendships and adventures.

Gladding also suggested that people look back over the year, reflecting on their lives and what they want to do in the future.

“It’s a time of friendship and of food and of reminiscing, so looking back and reflecting on what the year has been like, what one’s life has been like and what a person wants to do in the future,” he said.

What if political conversations simply can’t be avoided?

If that happens, DeBono said, be open-minded.

“I always find it important to hear the other side,” DeBono said. “I think that makes my understanding of their point of view better if I can hear what they are saying because we’re not watching the same news sources. We might learn things from each other if we can take a step back and just be open-minded.”

She suggested that people really listen to each other, “not just give lip service and pretend like we’re listening.”

But DeBono said it’s important to have boundaries, to be assertive and direct conversations elsewhere.

“But do it in a way that’s kind and respectful of other people and their views,” she said.

Gladding said there is usually at least one diplomat or peacemaker in a family to call on for help if things get out of control.

“He or she can step in to calm the waters,” he said.

Fun and games over electronics

Board games and family-oriented games that are conversational are a great way to keep people distracted from talking politics.

“It will take some time to create your own family game, but it’s a lot of fun,” Gladding said.

DeBono said she probably wouldn’t do games that require using a cellphone because it’s important at the Thanksgiving table to actually have conversations, fun and positive moments.

“We spend way too much time on our cellphones and our laptops and stuff like that when it should be a day of very little, if any at all, screen time,” she said.

Gladding suggested having a silly rule: “If it’s not a natural part of your body, you can’t bring it to the table.”

He said it’s OK to use electronics if there is an emergency phone call, for example, or people want to call a family member such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, who couldn’t come to the gathering.

“People like to be included,” he said. “People like to be invited. People like to be excited. Thanksgiving and this time of year is perfect for all of that.”