Thanksgiving, in the not too distant past, was the official start of the holiday shopping. Now, as soon as Halloween is over the Christmas decorations and merchandise are in the stores and the ads and commercials appear even sooner. Radio stations are playing holiday music in mid-November. And some stores opened on Thanksgiving to beat the traditional Friday-after-shopping-day known as “Black Friday.”
The name Black Friday sounds ominous rather than creating a feeling of holiday cheer. Does it make you think of the Black Plague? How about Black Tuesday, when the stock market crashed? Or, does it conjure up the image of a black day in history, signifying some terrible event?
Black Friday is based on the notion that retailers have to wait until the last few weeks of the year before they can start making profits. And since the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, this is the time when the stores get in the black rather than continuing to use red ink. This doesn’t mean much to us as shoppers, but the retailers and the media sure make it seem like a big deal.
With the shop-early promotions and the growth of holiday Internet buying, Black Friday is more than ever symbolic rather than a reality. A Rasmussen poll conducted before Thanksgiving shows that nearly 4 out of 10 American consumers had already started their holiday shopping and that 64% of respondents plan to do at least some shopping online this year. This is up from 56% making that same claim last holiday season.
Conversely, 35% said they will not buy online versus nearly half that did not plan to go online to purchase Christmas gifts in 2006. Although online marketers should receive a greater percentage of the dollars spent this year, the survey shows that 58% of the consumers will spend less for gifts than they did last year. This number is slightly higher among those 65+, who are also less apt to be Internet purchasers.
Nearly half of all adults consider holiday shopping a fun experience, while just over a third do not. Among those 65+, 39% say it’s an unpleasant chore, and 39% consider it fun. Those who have made arrangements to not exchange gifts with family and friends is evenly split with 47% indicating yes and 46% saying no. In spite of this, about two-thirds of shoppers prefer to buy specific gifts for others rather than giving gift cards. Only 45% would rather receive specific gifts as opposed to 42% who prefer gift cards.
Since there is a great deal of uncertainty stemming from the nation’s economic condition, many people will wait until Christmas gets closer before deciding how much to spend for gifts. Maybe this will be a year when shoppers consider the wants and needs of the gift recipient and end up buying meaningful gifts rather than costly ones. The retailers and online marketers may not like this, but the person receiving the gift will. Incidentally, nearly 7 in 10 Americans prefer Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays. So, have a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”