“It’s insane, but it’s also one of the most fun days we have all year,” John Eller said. “As long as we have a plan that’s specific and calculated, we have a great day of business and get to see all our regular customers.”
Now, less than a month away from Black Friday on Nov. 23, store managers and their associates have started finalizing their plans for the busy night and morning.
In recent years, several retailers like Walmart and Target have opened at midnight, just a few hours after shoppers finish their Thanksgiving dinner. Kmart even has its doors open on Thanksgiving day, with many electronics and housewares marked down.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, a record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend last year, up from 212 million in 2010. The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 that 2011 weekend, up from the previous year’s $365.34. Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion in 2011.
The Black Friday name comes from that expectation that the Friday — and weekend — after Thanksgiving puts retailers in the “black” for the year.
Belk will join the midnight group this year — a move that Eller, who will weather his 24th Christmas season in retail this year, said the store came by with trial and error.
“We opened at 3 a.m. last year, which is still very early,” Eller said. “But we learned that it’s there in that area where people realize they haven’t slept in about 24 hours, so they go home to go to sleep.”
Target, which opened at midnight last year, had customers lining up just past 3 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, with the lining curving around the parking lot all the way to Zaxby’s.
Carrollton Target store manager Steffyn Workman said he’s expecting the same this year, and he’s already contacted the Carrollton Police Department to handle crowd control.
“We’ve crafted an excellent plan for crowd control with the police department that will make the shopping safe and enjoyable,” Workman, who’s in his ninth year in the Target Corp., said.
The plan includes maps for customers, a tool that is especially useful since big-ticket items like televisions and other electronics will be found out of their usual departments. Workman said the store typically uses its apparel area to house doorbuster deals that the associates know will attract a lot of customers.
Belk, which doesn’t peddle in the typical Black Friday merchandise like TVs and computers, has found more success in recent years with boot sales.
“We do a huge boot business the day after Thanksgiving,” Eller said. “We’ve doubled the number of styles and colors the past few years, and that’s usually what the majority of people are looking for when they come in.”
News reports usually air nationwide each year of incidents that occur when a customer doesn’t get to purchase what he or she wants, sometimes ending in violence. Eller, who has worked in major metropolitan department stores, said he’s never seen anything like that, especially in Carrollton.
“The average customer in Carrollton is very controlled,” Eller said. “We appreciate that.”
The Belk manager also spoke of retooled sales throughout the day, instead of having all its sale items out when the doors open.
“We’ve found that we have great business when we first open up, and throughout the morning, but then by 3 p.m., it’s slowed down to just a normal day,” Eller said. “So we’re trying things that will bring customers in at those times so it’s not a big crescendo of customers, followed by a comparative lull.”
After 23 years in the business, Eller has seen many changes in Black Friday come to pass.
“We opened at 10 a.m. when I first started at a store on the day after Thanksgiving,” Eller said. “And the deals have gotten better, honestly. It’s good for the customers because we’re finding things that are brought in to drive the customers in.”
Workman said their purpose is simple: to give customers the easiest access to the store’s best deals.
“It’s all about getting our merchandise in front of our customers and giving them as good an experience as we can,” Workman said.