The election is over, so now what? For big retailers, they are gearing up for and counting down to another big date on the calendar: Black Friday.
While many Americans are still distracted by the results of the election, the nation's big-box stores are starting to roll out their Black Friday ads with special "doorbuster deals" on everything from kids pajamas to big-screen TVs.
This year, as has been the case for the past several years, the shopping bonanza will once again kick off on Thanksgiving Day. On Wednesday, three major companies confirmed they would stick with their playbooks from the last few years: Target and Wal-Mart will once again start their in-store sales at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, and most Best Buy stores will open at 5 p.m.
"Of course, Black Friday caters to ultimate deal hunters, but by opening at an earlier time we're able to welcome more families — moms, dads, grandparents and kids," said Janna Potts, Target's chief stores officer. "We have been opening on Thanksgiving for the past few years, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive."
At the same time, many who object to the thought of making employees work on the holiday cheered when the Mall of America bucked the trend toward earlier openings with its announcement last month that it would close on the holiday for the first time in years. Individual stores still have the option to open that day, though the mall's Best Buy store will not be one of them, a decision a company spokesman said was made because the store does not have its own exterior entrance.
Other retailers such as Office Depot and HHGregg also decided to reverse course and stay closed this year on the holiday. Mall operator CBL & Associates will shut most of its malls, including Burnsville Center, on Thanksgiving while still giving department stores like Macy's that have their own entrances the option to open.
Sticking to the playbook
But most of the big-box retailers that depend on the big Black Friday sales to drive traffic to their stores are sticking to the Thanksgiving Day openings. While earlier sales have diluted some of its punch, Black Friday weekend is still one of the biggest shopping events of the year and still attracts lines outside the door before stores open.
Macy's, whose sales have been in a slump, was the first major retailer to announce last month that it will open again on Thanksgiving — and an hour earlier than last year, at 5 p.m.
It was followed by J.C. Penney (3 p.m.), Toys 'R' Us (5 p.m.), Sears (6 p.m.) and Kohl's (6 p.m.).
"If a retailer is making money on a holiday, they're going to open," said Charlie O'Shea, an analyst with Moody's.
Those that have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving are ones that probably should not have opened that day in the first place since they are not big Black Friday destinations, he added. "They took a look at their profitability that day" and realized it was not so hot, he said. "Not to be a cynic, but then they spin it and say we want to let our employees spend Thanksgiving with their families."
Best Buy learned firsthand the risk of not opening when its competitors do back in 2012. That year, it opened at midnight on Black Friday while others such as Wal-Mart and Target opened earlier in the night, likely ceding some sales to them.
"Clearly, trying to win the battle without playing is difficult," Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told shareholders in 2014.
Aside from when they open, many retailers are using similar promotional strategies as they have in recent years.
Target will once again dangle some early Black Friday deals, including several that went live on Wednesday and will continue through Thursday. It will also bring back its "10 days of deals" promotion, which starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving and ends on Cyber Monday. Officials said that program, which includes a discount on a different category each day that it runs, drove some of Target's strongest performance of the holidays last year.
Most will also offer the same in-store deals online earlier in the day on Thanksgiving. Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer, said that the retailer has increased its inventory for deals that are allocated for Walmart.com by more than 50 percent this year as online shopping continues to gain momentum.
In recent years, Wal-Mart has guaranteed that shoppers who showed up in its stores at a certain time during its Black Friday sales would be able to get a certain product — or would get a rain check if they ran out in the store. But Wal-Mart is not doing so this year.
Instead, company executives said they have tried to bring in enough products to match the anticipated demand for them so customers don't walk away disappointed. For example, this year Wal-Mart has brought in more than 1.5 million TVs, 2 million tablets and computers and 3 million video games for its Black Friday sales, Bratspies said.
"We're not big on putting a product on the cover of our circular and then only have a couple per store," he said, nodding to one of the frequent criticisms about Black Friday sales. "We don't think that's the right way to treat the customer."
He added that he hasn't seen any decline in Black Friday sales, which continue to be a big draw for Wal-Mart's customers.
As for the election, the jury is still out about how it might affect holiday spending. Some analysts have noted that spending slowed down in the final weeks leading up to Tuesday and they are watching closely to see how and when there will be a bounceback now that the outcome is known.
Officials at the National Retail Federation said last month that they didn't expect the political season to affect overall sales, noting that it hasn't appeared to be a big factor in previous presidential elections. So they are sticking with a forecast for holiday retail sales to grow 3.6 percent, which would be better than the last couple of years.
"With the holiday season upon us, retailers are glad that this unprecedented election is over, along with the divisive rhetoric and the impact it had on consumers concerned about their future," Matthew Shay, the trade group's president, said in a statement on Wednesday.
While many people may still be distracted by the election's outcome, some analysts note that consumers will eventually get in the holiday spirit.
"We will still have a Christmas," O'Shea said.