Macy’s, Walmart Up the Ante for Black Friday Even As Its Relevance Wanes

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Even as Black Friday is fading as the most frenetic custom of post-industrial American materialism, retailers find new ways of trying to keep it relevant. So now Macy’s will open on Thanksgiving evening for the first time in the chain’s 155-year history.

Macy’s plans to open most of its stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, four hours earlier than the previously accelerated 12-midnight opening. “Black Friday is the biggest shopping event of the year and brings with it a level of fun and excitement to our customers around the nation,” Peter Sachse, Macy’s chief stores officer, said in a news release explaining the move.

Likewise, Walmart is trying to get an even bigger share of the Black Friday trade with its strategy for advertising heavily on TV during the highly watched trio of NFL games on Thanksgiving, something the chain historically hasn’t done.[more]

“I don’t know why we didn’t figure it out sooner,” US CMO Stephen Quinn told Advertising Age. NFL advertising “also works with our associates, so it has a magnifying effect” by generating buzz among the American workforce of the $466 billion retailer.

In upping the ante for Black Friday, each retailer apparently believes it’s worth fighting trends that continue to undermine the once-unquestioned importance of attracting the most shoppers to their stores on the day after Thanksgiving. The traditional gateway to the Christmas-shopping season always lured a majority of American consumers to the stores, where they expected to get the best deals of the year.

And stakes are actually pretty high this year. Some prognosticators are looking for an uptick in Christmas spending this year compared with last year, but a stagnant economy and consumer incomes, erratic consumer confidence and the ripple effects of the ongoing federal government curtailment can be expected to make it an uphill struggle for American retailers to increase the till this winter.

But things have changed as far as Black Friday’s role is concerned. The actual percentage of people who hit the malls on Black Friday has been decreasing for years, Time pointed out, with Accenture estimating that 44 percent of consumers were likely to go shopping on Black Friday 2011, down from 52 percent in 2009. Merchants aren’t always offering their absolute best deals on that day anymore. Online shopping has made bargain-hunting easier—and there’s no doubt that news of the occasional death-by-crowd-mauling in some store can put a damper on even the most robust shopping occasion.

Reddit may have the right answer for this Black Friday. The site plans to launch a livestreaming event called Redditgifts Shopping Network, featuring product demos, comedies, PSAs from nonprofit organizations and even live performances, according to TheVerge.com—all in an effort to help people “experience the holiday chaos” without having to actually experience it.

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