Christmas shopping rush begins with big day after Thanksgiving

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 24, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &045; Local businesses have spent the week preparing for one of the biggest shopping days of the year, the day after Thanksgiving.

Dubbed &8220;Black Friday&8221; by the retail industry, due to its ability to move a business out the red and into the profit margin for the year, this day stands out due to the sheer volume of consumers drawn to the sales.

Kayte Randall, owner of Perfect Touch in Demopolis, said their biggest crowd of shoppers comes during their annual sale that begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs through the week of Christmas on the River.

In addition to people trying to do some early Christmas shopping, Randall said many of her customers are looking to get party clothes and accessories for a season traditionally full of lots of parties.

Peebles department store, which opened just one week before Thanksgiving last year, will experience their second year of after Thanksgiving Day sales on Friday. Rita Adams, store manager, said Peebles opened at 7 a.m. on Friday for their sale. Neighboring store, Fred&8217;s opened early at 5 a.m.

Adams pointed out that with the influx of new stores to the area, people will have more choices of where to shop, and this may encourage people to shop locally for their Christmas items.

Last year proved to be a successful day, Adams said, with sales toping $15,000. They have also been looking to provide special incentives for shoppers, such as receiving a $10 gift card for every $50 purchased.

But what brings most shoppers out on Black Friday is the lure of a good deal. According to recent trends in gas prices and weak credit, the nation&8217;s shoppers are increasingly trading down to lower-price stores or cheaper items.

Such changes &8212; which emerged this past summer and surfaced in the latest financial results for retailers &8212; could alter dynamics of the holiday shopping season as it officially kicks off on Friday. For some shoppers, it could be as drastic as buying all their clothes at discounters instead of department stores. For others, it could be as subtle as buying a wallet instead of a handbag or one latte per week at a fancy coffee shop and deli coffee on the other days.

The trend could benefit discounters, warehouse clubs and drug stores while hurting department stores and mall-based apparel chains. Even Starbucks Inc. reported its first decline in traffic on record at its U.S. stores.

The idea of trading down is different from cross-shopping, when shoppers buy kitchenware at Target and status handbags at Neiman Marcus. Shoppers cross shop to have a more eclectic style, but trade down to cheaper stores as a sign of financial stress, say experts.

The trend is starting to play in the hands of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has stepped up discounting after suffering its worst holiday season on record last year. Last week, the discounter recorded an 8 percent profit increase, and analysts say it could benefit from shoppers trading down this holiday season even as its core customers pull back. Drug store chains like CVS Caremark Corp. and Walgreen Co. &8212; both of which have been adding trendy items like funky jewelry &8212; are also expected to be winners.

Meanwhile, department stores &8212; which enjoyed a resurgence last holiday season &8212; have seen their fortunes reverse. Home and apparel, categories sensitive to the economy, are struggling with sluggish sales and department stores are finding stiffer competition from the likes of off price stores like TJ Maxx, Flickinger said.

Last week, Macy&8217;s lowered its sales outlook, while Kohl&8217;s Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. reduced their earnings projections as they recorded declining profits in the third-quarter. But TJX Cos. boosted its earnings outlook as it recorded an 8 percent profit gain in third-quarter profits.

Luxury stores like Saks Fifth Avenue should continue to fare well this holiday season. But the buyer who aspires to luxury seems to be feeling pinched, hurting results at Coach Inc., considered a bellwether for the low-end luxury market. Coach cut its sales outlook after struggling with declining traffic.

In a bid to get shoppers to buy early, Wal-Mart and other stores have offered door buster specials starting the first weekend of November. The deals are only expected to get better the day after Thanksgiving with stores expanding shopping hours and offering more door buster items than last year.

Associated Press Writer Anne D&8217;Innocenzio contributed to this report.