Is Black Friday still a big deal?

By Features Consumer Reports

For more than half of Americans, Black Friday is just another day. Last year, 56 percent of Americans stayed home on the big shopping day and over the weekend as well instead of hitting the shopping centers, according to a Consumer Reports Holiday Poll.

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Why? Mostly because of the maddening crowds. But a third of respondents also felt that the deals being offered were overblown. The importance of Black Friday as the bellweather of the shopping season has clearly diminished in recent years.

Eron Zehavi, co-Founder of Swagbucks, an online company that allows Web and mobile members to earn virtual currency by watching videos, searching the Web, playing games, shopping, and taking part in market research, says Black Friday still has appeal and sets the standard for holiday discounts, but its timing has changed dramatically. “Retailers now offer Black Friday prices as early as before Halloween, and online shoppers can find even better discounts and rewards from home,” he said.

Zehavi cited a recent Swagbucks' study that illustrates the point. The research revealed that nearly seven in 10 holiday shoppers will make a major purchase long before Black Friday, with about 40 percent having done so before Halloween.

"The shift to season-long holiday discounts has changed the purpose of ‘shopping’ holidays,” Zehavi said. “There will always be people who like to hunt for deals at big box retailers, but more and more are enjoying the convenience of monthlong discounts and extra perks available online. An overwhelming demand for free shipping—from our research, the most-demanded incentive among online shoppers—also means orders earlier in the season to ensure timely delivery."

We found other telling statistics. Early November sales at select group of Fortune 500 retailers are up 27 percent this year vs. last, according to Clarus Marketing Group.

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“This provides clear evidence that consumers have already started to put their 2014 holiday shopping budgets to good use,” Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus, said. “These figures mark a significant leap forward for the ‘unofficial’ holiday shopping period considering last year these same retailers didn't begin to show their holiday spikes until Nov. 8 through the 11th.”

"Black Friday isn’t as pivotal as it once was, but it retains some luster and importance, mostly because it falls the day after Thanksgiving," Caporaso said. "That holiday brings families together, and many of them like to hunt for sales together the next day.  In the eyes of most retailers, the holiday shopping season starts on Nov. 1, as evidenced by all of the holiday promotions and decorations displayed right now in malls nationwide.  The battle for the consumers’ disposable income never ends, and retailers can’t afford to let their competitors gain an edge on them. The success of Black Friday probably created the longer holiday season because consumers reacted so positively to those offers, retailers began testing earlier offers.  Consumers have always been more motivated by sales than by dates, and the extended holiday season is just a natural outgrowth of that."

Retailers are indeed encouraging consumers to shop sooner rather than later. Major merchants such as Walmart, Nordstrom, Home Depot, and Target have already started Black Friday-like preview or early-bird promotions. And just a few days ago, Amazon kicked off its Countdown to Black Friday deals that includes thousands of limited-time specials on hot electronics, toys, clothing, jewelry, kitchen wares, and other goods.

Whether you’re just beginning to build your list or in full shopping mode, you can get a handle on the latest holiday promotions, even preview Black Friday ads from major merchants by visiting aggregator sites such as bfads.net, theblackfriday.com, gottadeal.com, and blackfriday.com. You can also sign up for e-mail and text alerts of coming holiday promotions at many retailer websites.

—Tod Marks

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