Unlike many men, John Talbott likes to spend time in retail stores.
When he was the CEO of an apparel store chain, he used to spend hundreds of hours getting his employees ready for the crush of holiday shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. Today, as a faculty member in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, he studies retail strategies and consumer behavior.
But like many this year, Talbott did not hit the mall or big box stores on Black Friday. The closest he came to shopping that weekend was driving past a Best Buy, where he saw a handful of young people waiting for the store to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Thursday, retail activity during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend is projected to fall by 11 percent. The number of people shopping in stores and online fell by 5.2 percent.
That said, 133.7 million people hit the mall or went online and made purchases that weekend. Commerce Department figures also released Thursday said retail sales grew by a seasonally-adjusted 0.7 percent in November. Sales are up 5.1 percent over the past 12 months.
So it’s not because people don’t have disposable income. Perhaps overall shopping patterns have shifted for good and retailers are scrambling to adjust to new realities, said Talbott, director of research in the Kelley School’s Center for Education and Research in Retailing.
“Talking to some of the folks around the country, I got anecdotal evidence that it was almost a non-event” he said. “Maybe it’s the end of Black Friday as we know it, to quote the great REM song.”
In reality, Talbott said that Black Friday and Cyber Monday — a big push for online sales — wrap up the initial phase of the holiday shopping season. The second half takes place in December, with an expected surge next weekend.
“All of the business that used to be dropped right on the Friday after Thanksgiving is now really spread from the middle of October until that following Sunday (after Thanksgiving), from a physical store standpoint, and to that Monday in online business,” he said. “You just don’t see the frenetic activity that we’ve seen previously.
“Being able to disperse sales throughout the season is a great thing for retailers and I think they would love to get rid of Black Friday.”
Customer tastes are changing. More people are avoiding the crowds by shopping online. It’s the “shopping enthusiasts” who are hunting the Black Friday deals. For those who shopped over the weekend, it was mainly social enjoyment and a pastime, he said.
“You can get Black Friday deals online before the day so why should you go to the inconvenience of sitting outside a store at 4 a.m.,” Talbott said. “For most, waiting outside a store in a line in the cold is not viewed as an enjoyable activity.”
He agrees with other analysts who think that consumers have become fatigued by Black Friday mania.
Also, peoples’ views toward religion and its traditions are changing, which might impact how much they are willing to spend on gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah and other year-end celebrations.
“I was on a radio show and we had a couple of callers who questioned the whole concept of consumption as a means to happiness. The callers indicated that they no longer buy gifts for each other but instead make charitable donations,” Talbott recalled. “Those who can, are providing gifts for themselves and their children throughout the year, so it’s not something where they have to load up on gifts during this one particular time of the year.”
Gifts are dispersed at birthdays, graduations and other holidays throughout the year, which historically weren’t about spending. Halloween has become one the biggest retail events of the year, and today there seem to be sales for every observance, including Veteran’s Day.
“There are a lot of events in our lives, particularly children’s lives today. Whether it’s celebrating a sixth grade graduation with a large gift, or a reward for a good grade, that’s something that never would have happened when I was a kid growing up,” he said. “We live in a culture of constant gifting for all sorts of reasons.
“Maybe it takes some of the pressure off during this, the traditional gift-giving season.”
Because of the way that retail sales are recorded and reported, Black Friday may never truly go away. To retailers, it’s a top-line revenue day and not a bottom-line day. It happens to be the final day of the November fiscal month and one of the last days to achieve sales goals for the month of November.
“It’s one of the last two days to get that sales number where it needs to be and then they’re out reporting comparable store sales fairly soon after that. If they don’t hit their comps, their share price gets crushed,” Talbott explained. “Even though Black Friday may not have a huge bottom line impact because historically retailers were giving product away, a sales decline would still be perceived poorly by Wall Street.”
Getting rid of Black Friday may be good for all of us, Talbott said. No more getting up early. No more leaving families on Thanksgiving.
“No more fighting each other for that last ‘Tickle-Me Elmo,'” he added. “Maybe the world’s a better place.”
If you’d like to read more about Talbott’s research and views, the Center for Education and Research in Retailing recently released the findings of its Findex, a survey of CollegeFashionista “style gurus” on fashionable purchase patterns. IU issued a news release about his other views about online shopping and “early Black Friday.”
In his comments, Talbott gave a nod to the REM classic, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” In case you aren’t familiar with the song, here is a link to one of their performances: