Every year, bleary-eyed news anchors head to local shopping centers to get the Black Friday money shot: a mob of consumers hurling themselves across linoleum thresholds, and each other, to get their pound of flesh at rock-bottom, lowest-ever prices.
This year's Black Friday will be different. For one thing, the hurling/shoving will start Thursday.
Newscasters won't even have a chance to digest their turkey dinners before they have to bundle up and head into the field for footage at Wal-Mart (NYS: WMT) , Toys "R" Us, and Gap (NYS: GPS) . These merchants announced that they will be open for business on Thanksgiving with extra special savings for shoppers who leave the dirty dishes for their loved ones to wash.
Offering pre-door-buster door-buster deals isn't the only way Black Friday shopping has evolved in 2011:
Walmart.com is setting up temporary holiday quarters. It's squeezing its big-box self into two small pop-up shops in Southern California shopping malls to woo mall rats into its lair.
Sears (NAS: SHLD) and Kmart have made virtual reality shopping more real by erecting their websites in malls, movie theaters, airports, subways, and bus shelters. These mobile shops feature pictures of toys and other holiday gewgaws with QR (Quick Response) codes (those square abstract bar codes you can swipe with your smartphone) for shoppers to swipe for more information and instant purchasing.
But retailers aren't the only ones changing their Black Thursday/Friday game plan. Shoppers, too, have evolved and they are going to give desperate retailers a run for their money this year.
Habits of the new shopper-gatherer
According to Accenture's (NYS: ACN) annual consumer holiday shopping study, a lot of consumers are planning to sleep in on Black Friday this year. The company predicts the lowest store turnout in three years, with 44% of consumers saying they'll shop on Black Friday, compared to 47% in 2010, and 52% in 2009.
Growing numbers of shoppers are saying bah humbug to Black Friday madness altogether. More than half (52%) say they'll wait until after Black Friday to start their holiday shopping (compared to 41% in 2010). And one-third won't even bother making a shopping list until December.
Still, news crews won't have a problem finding people to quote. The traditional Black Friday crowd will show up for their close-ups. You know, those who need a break from "family time," the ones who head to the mall for sport, and people without cable TV.
You'll recognize the new Black Friday shopper. The 2011 version will be...
Focused: Gone are the days of casual browsing, filling the cart with something that wasn't on the list just because it was such a good deal. This year's consumer is what Accenture calls a "precision shopper" -- someone focused on acquiring specific items at the best price. The focus this year is on necessities, such as clothing and household items, according to the survey. That's bad news for retailers chumming the sales floor with TVs and game consoles and such. Gift cards will also be a hot item. According to Accenture, 12% of those surveyed indicated that they would spend more than $75 on each gift card, compared to 6% in 2010.
Connected: E-tail and retail will collide in a big way this year, with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets arming shoppers with information on competitors' deals. Woe is the merchant who does a false markup to pitch a supposedly super-duper discount. That trick won't work when finding the manufacturer's suggested retail price is just a few clicks away. Smart merchants will reward wired shoppers with QR codes that offer coupon codes or special deals. And those retailers who enable consumers to make a purchase online and pick it up in the store will certainly earn bonus points with shoppers.
Really tardy: Every holiday, consumers and retailers have a staring contest to see who will blink first before Christmas Day. Don't blink. It pays to be a picky procrastinator. Consumer Reports found that the lowest prices of the season on many of its recommended models of electronics (TVs, cameras, laptops) were at least 5% cheaper in the weeks following Black Friday.
Empty-handed: Full parking lots, sold-out promotional items -- the inconvenience factor could be more pronounced than ever this year, with nearly 60% of consumers surveyed by Accenture saying they plan to buy more than half of their holiday gifts online. That's up from 41% in 2010, even though fewer consumers said they would shop online this year (66% versus 60% last year).
Closer to home: Mom and pop are getting a lot more competitive. "Shop Local!" is a rallying cry that's getting louder as small businesses band together to woo their neighbors' shopping dollars. In Alexandria, Va., for example, more than 30 small businesses are extending their hours and offering deep discounts to their neighbors on Black Friday. The city is also offering free parking in all city-owned lots and garages for the day.
Regardless of how the retail numbers shake out, in future years we'll look back at Black Friday 2011 as the one that really changed the way we shopped forever.
For more on what Black Friday will be like, see Alyce Lomax's article: "Those With the Most (Discounted) Toys Win."
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At the time thisarticle was published Dayana Yochimhas already climbed the Everest of Black Friday. When she lived in New York, she went to the flagship Macy's on Black Friday morning and lived to tell about it. She owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.