The holiday shopping season has reached the homestretch and its biggest moment — Saturday — is likely to be the biggest shopping day of the year.
Retailers have got their last-minute marketing, pricing and staffing plans in place. At Creative Kidstuff, the Twin Cities-based chain of toy stores, Chief Executive Roberta Bonoff will make the rounds to give pep talks to employees who have endured more than a month of weekend crowds.
“We want everyone to be on their best game from monitoring stock like crazy to making sure the gift wrap line doesn’t get too backed up,” Bonoff said.
For fashionably late shoppers, the wait will likely pay off. “There are plenty of deals out there,” said Marshal Cohen, senior analyst at the NPD Group.
Spending on what some retailers call “Super Saturday” is likely to eclipse Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that for years has been seen as the year’s busiest shopping day.
“It should be a record breaker,” said Burt Flickinger III, managing director for Strategic Resource Group in New York City. “We’ve got favorable weather, huge crowds at the malls for ‘Star Wars 7’ and an extra shipping day next week that we didn’t have last year.”
And lots of procrastinators. As of last weekend, 57 percent of consumers had not started their Christmas shopping, had barely started or were not half halfway done yet, according to NPD Group’s research. “Compared to last year we are slightly further behind, and there is still a lot of shopping left,” Cohen said.
In 2014, Super Saturday sales hit $23 billion, surpassing Black Friday’s $20 billion, part of a broader shift that’s also seen retailers extend holiday promotions to earlier in November.
“We’re seeing the next generation of shopping days that are no longer compressed,” Cohen said. “Retailers advertise Black Friday deals in July and throughout November. Cyber Monday is now Cyber week.”
Retail sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday fell 1.5 percent to $12.1 billion compared to last year’s $12.3 billion, according to RetailNext data. Although online sales increased more than 15 percent, overall sales were down.
Analysts say a lack of exciting products has many shoppers waiting on the sidelines to do a lot of their shopping this year. Star Wars memorabilia and hoverboards notwithstanding, computer tablets, headsets, video games, Barbie and Fitbit were around last year.
Even clothing, often the season’s best seller, has shoppers saying “meh.”
“Consumers are finding the apparel selection too dark and drab this year,” Flickinger said.
Add to that the fact that many shoppers believe that Black Friday isn’t the bargain bonanza that it used to be. Nearly half of shoppers expected the best deals to come after Black Friday, according to a survey by Ibotta, a Denver-based cash-back retail mobile app.
And those expectations are panning out, particularly in clothing. Warmer-than-usual weather in much of the nation this month has led to steeper price cuts on winter wear.
At Macy’s, Men’s Club Room cashmere sweaters that were on sale for $39.99 Thursday were $79.99 on Black Friday weekend, regularly $195.
Last week, Best Buy began offering a selection of Apple Watches for $100 off, cutting the lowest price for the Apple Watch Sport 38mm to $249. “This is the biggest dollar-off discount we’ve seen, easily beating the Black Friday offers,” said Benjamin Glaser, features editor at Dealnews.com, which tracks the best bargains all year.
On Black Friday, several retail chains offered the Apple Watch with $100 of store credit rather than an outright price cut.
Not all experts believe Saturday will be bigger than Black Friday.
“Historically, when Super Saturday has fallen on the 19th, as opposed to the 20th, it has not performed particularly well,” said Bill Martin, the founder of ShopperTrak. “Shoppers don’t feel the extreme sense of urgency, as the 20th typically generates.”
Don’t expect to find Cara Gautschi of Minneapolis at the malls on Saturday.
“The crowds and the parking make me anxious and claustrophobic,” Gautschi said as she shopped Mall of America in the early afternoon on Wednesday. “I avoid Black Friday too, because I know that I can still get deals every single day.”