The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 23, 2012

Earlier Black Friday kicks off shopping season

(Continued)

It is unclear how many shoppers were drawn to the earlier openings versus the traditional Black Friday hours. But according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers conducted this month, about 17 percent planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, up from 16 percent last year when retailers were testing the earlier hours. Meanwhile, 33 percent intended to shop on Black Friday, down one percentage point from last year. Overall, it's estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to $11.4 billion this year.

The earlier hours are an effort by stores to make shopping as convenient as possible for Americans, who they fear won't spend freely during the two-month holiday season in November and December because of economic uncertainty. Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites that offer cheap prices and the convenience of being able to buy something from smartphones, laptops and tablet computers from just about anywhere.

That's put added pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season, to give consumers a compelling reason to leave their homes. That's becoming more difficult: the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion, or about flat with last year's growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.

As a result, brick-and-mortar retailers have been trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores. Some stores tested the earlier hours last year, but this year more retailers opened their doors late on Thanksgiving or at midnight on Black Friday. In addition to expanding their hours, many also are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.

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