NEW YORK – After pushing steep discounts throughout November that are usually reserved for the day after Thanksgiving, retailers from Kohl's to Toys "R" Us are offering even bigger cuts and promotions for Black Friday in a frantic bid to pull in shoppers.
But the bargain hunters showing up for the early morning specials on toys and TVs are not expected to buy with the same gusto as a year ago, as they fret about tightening credit, massive layoffs and shrinking retirement funds.
Not to mention that consumers are already jaded by all those "60 percent off" signs plastered on storefronts. Analysts say shoppers may stick to smaller gifts like cosmetics rather than $1,000 flat-panel TVs in a holiday season expected to be the weakest in decades.
Another concern? There aren't any must-have items so far, even in toys — though some items have been popular, such as Spin Master Ltd.'s Bakugan.
"I will be careful," said Joanna Rizzo, 20, an executive secretary from Medford, N.Y. who plans to stick to her budget of $200 for the day after Thanksgiving. Rizzo has just finished paying off her credit cards, and will use cash to pay for her presents. Overall, she plans to spend about $600, less than the $1,000 she spent on presents last year.
In recent years, merchants including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us Inc., have been pushing earlier the sales and expanded hours that were typically reserved for Black Friday — named because it historically was when stores turned a profit — to jump-start the season.
But in this year's deteriorating economy, stores from luxury retailers to consumer electronics chains, pressed the panic button — slashing prices up to 60 percent on even new merchandise. After reporting the worst October sales in at least 39 years, stores are seeing more weak sales in November, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Index, which measures sales at stores opened at least a year.
Kmart, a division of Sears Holdings Corp., started offering products at what it calls "Black Friday prices" earlier in the month — the first time it had done so. Drugstore chain CVS Caremark Corp. will launch a weeklong "Black Friday" promotion on Sunday, offering early morning deals on items ranging from GPS devices to digital photos frames.
"Black Friday is going to have some very impressive deals, but overall the deals won't be any better than what you saw before," despite all the hype, said Dan de Grandpre, founder and editor-in-chief of dealnews.com. "Retailers have already given their best shots already."
The day after Thanksgiving — which was the biggest sales generator of the season last year — isn't a predictor of the holiday season, but serves as a barometer of people's willingness to spend, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group.
"It sets the tone," said Flickinger, who predicts total sales will be 3 percent lower on Black Friday this year compared to last year. And more than ever, analysts will dissect the weekend's receipts to see how tightening credit and job worries are affecting spending.
The Thanksgiving shopping weekend, from Friday through Sunday, accounted for about 10.1 percent of overall holiday sales last year, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp. Bill Martin, ShopperTrak's co-founder, declined to offer estimates for the day this year, but said he believes that even though shoppers will be deliberate in their spending it will remain the biggest selling day of the season.
Ken Hicks, J.C. Penney Co.'s chief merchandising officer and president, said that he's anticipating a big sales day, but still, that's in line with modest expectations for the season.
A survey of 100 chief merchandising officers at leading retailers found that they expect Black Friday sales to rise 1.2 percent this year, below the 8.3 percent growth seen a year ago. Online sales, whose growth has dramatically slowed since September, will also experience slowing growth. According to the survey by BDO Seidman LLP, executives expect online sales to rise 2.4 percent on Dec. 1, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the official start of the online shopping season. That's down from a 21 percent growth last year.
Whether online or at actual stores, retailers are hoping to steal market share away from competitors by slashing prices.
Toys "R" Us stores will throw open their doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, offering 50 percent more early morning deals than a year ago. Unlike in past years, it will also be offering a wide variety of deep discounts at its Babies "R" Us stores. Meanwhile, Kohl's Corp. is opening its doors at 4 a.m. and plans to offer discounts of 40 percent to 50 percent on a wider range of brands, including its priciest fashion labels like Simply Vera Vera Wang.
J.C. Penney is pushing more affordable gifts such as the $49.99 My Sports Gaming System — which the company is pitching as a cheaper alternative to the Nintendo Wii — and said it will have 20 percent more early morning discounts on Black Friday than a year ago. My Sports Gaming System will be marked down to $38.88 on the day after Thanksgiving.
But don't expect Peggy Stauffer of New Hope, Pa., who has three children, ages 19, 16 and 12, to show up for all the Black Friday madness.
"I don't want to get up that early after having a Thanksgiving meal," she said." I'm too full."