Black Friday -- the storied king of holiday shopping events -- is poised to lose its crown.
The morning after Thanksgiving has long been the traditional kick-off for holiday shopping season, marked by early-morning crowds and bedrock discounts. But according to a recent survey from Accenture, the majority of shoppers -- 53 percent -- will opt to sleep off their turkey hangovers at home. For the second consecutive year, frostbitten lines at 4 a.m. will give way to the ease of armchair shopping as nearly 70 percent plan to buy online.
In fact, online shopping is the major reason Santa's helpers might forgo brick-and-mortar stores, both year-round and during the holidays. Last year, Cyber Monday alone pulled in almost $300 million more than Black Friday. Today's modern consumers are more adept at scouring websites for the best deals and most lucrative online coupons, raising the bar for more drool-inducing promotions online and off. The survey shows 87 percent of consumers won't even consider a holiday purchase if it's less than 20-percent off, while 25 percent of folks expect hearty discounts of 50 percent or more.
All this comes in the wake of a ho-hum 2009 holiday season that saw merchants cutting back and offering modest sales, often to the chagrin of consumers. To mend things this winter, many major outlets will continue Black Friday-esque discounts deep into the holiday season. Stores like JCPenney and Zumiez are leading the charge, catering more to Internet-savvy shoppers with in-store kiosks, improved online stores, easy-to-find coupons and ever-changing deals. Other outlets are expected to follow suit and provide more options to save, from regular in-store specials to social media-driven promos to temporary, pop-up stores.
In fact, many experts predict holiday shopping will no longer be confined to one or even several days. From the minute doors open on Black Friday morning to the final hours of Christmas Eve, consumers can expect holiday shopping to be a 24/7 event. When the lights at the local mall are dimmed, the draw of free shipping -- the most important factor when purchasing online -- will keep sales pumping in cyberspace.
The demand for better deals and discounts is driven in part by nationwide monetary woes. The shrunken economy has forced many to live paycheck to paycheck, and no season reflects this more than the holidays. Over 80 percent of people will spend the same or less on gifts compared to 2009, primarily because they have less discretionary income than in years past. To simply stay afloat, nearly half of all consumers will cut back on spending for themselves and friends. Tykes, however, need not worry. People are least likely to skimp on purchases for children.
Black Friday isn't the only tradition being bucked this year. Regularly hot, hip categories like electronics and technology are expected to take a serious hit. Just under 10 percent of consumers plan to snag must-have items like the Kindle, iPad and other gadgets.
In place of Steve Jobs' latest brainchild, gift cards and clothing will account for the bulk of buying this holiday season. Gift cards in particular have gained popularity every year, pulling in nearly $40 billion last December. Plastic is arguably the savior of last-minute shoppers: In 2009, an eye-catching 39 percent of digital and plastic gift cards were purchased just hours before Santa made his rounds, making Christmas Eve the highest selling day of the year.
More retailers are using gift cards to entice procrastinators and early birds alike. Many stores are expected to offer regular holiday incentives, such as a complimentary card for purchasing a hot product or spending over $100. This can only mean more free rewards across the board, as half of all consumers will buy three or more gift cards worth $50 each. For those looking to save online, comparison sites like GiftCardGranny.com offer discount gift cards year-round, carrying plastic for everything from restaurant and movie theaters to speciality retailers.
Apparel across all categories is consistently popular, but some experts warn about less-than-lucrative sales. The market research company NDP Group is actually suggesting merchants avoid slashing prices. Why? Because consumers often fall back on reliable items like clothing, shoes and accessories when nothing exciting is up for grabs.
Looking only a month into the future, will the Internet and an ever-expanding shopping season completely dethrone Black Friday? Not quite. The vast number of consumers still don't buy yuletide gifts before Nov. 26, and although fewer will brave crowded malls and frozen lines than ever before, the event ushers in nearly a month's worth of Santa-sized discounts. The more opportunities to bring holiday cheer, the better.