A half-hour before the doors opened up to customers eager for Thanksgiving deals, the staff inside the Best Buy store in Eden Prairie was getting fired up. Their general manager stood on a countertop high-fiving with chief executive Hubert Joly, who beamed with pride.
It was the kickoff to what the Richfield-based company calls “Power Week,” a five-day promotional sprint for the nation’s retailers that is estimated to draw in 164 million consumers — half of the U.S. population — between now and Monday.
Retailers are banking on a strong holiday shopping season, with U.S. consumer confidence at its highest mark in a generation.
Surveys show the average consumer will spend 4 percent more than last year. Twin Cities-specific research from Deloitte, an analytics company headquartered in London, found that shoppers here will spend $1,283 on gifts and holiday experiences this year. That’s up $200 from last year.
Lexi and Robert Jensen were ready to splurge. The couple from Victoria was among the first in line at Best Buy to purchase a 43-inch Toshiba TV.
“We’ve got one already,” Robert said. “It’s a great deal.”
A little more than 20 percent of holiday shoppers planned to be out Thanksgiving evening, according to the National Retail Federation. Black Friday is expected to be the busiest day of the long weekend, and shoppers often drop more than a third of their holiday budget, according to the industry group.
The mind-set of the holiday shopper has been shifting for a number of years, driven by the rise and convenience of online shopping.
Rather than focusing on just a few big shopping days with catchy names, consultants have come to describe the lead-in to the holidays as Black November.
Those “last-minute Charlies” scurrying around the malls on Christmas Eve have largely become a thing of the past.
Four in 10 consumers start shopping for the holidays Nov. 1, according to the retail foundation.
“Earlier shopping has become the new normal,” said retail consultant Robert Passikoff, whose New York-based company, Brand Keys, specializes in brand loyalty and consumer engagement.
In the firm’s annual survey of more than 11,600 shoppers conducted in late October, more than half said they’d already started their Christmas shopping or intended to shop before the traditional Black Friday event.
Retailers have caught on, he said, offering a slow descent of “low, lower and lowest pricing offers.”
Target unveiled its Black Friday circular on Nov. 1 and offered deals on some items immediately. Best Buy offered deals on thousands of items starting Nov. 8. Kohl’s opened up special online deals on its Black Friday ads on Monday.
“Retailers have evolved their philosophy, and it isn’t entirely wrong,” Passikoff said. “They think: If I get them to buy it here first, they won’t need to buy it anywhere else.”
Walmart now calls the long holiday weekend that began on Thanksgiving, “The Event,” said Brandon Sharp, market manager for the 10-store northern Minneapolis region.
‘Turning the Titanic’
During a recent tour at the massive and newly remodeled Walmart store in Maple Grove, Sharp said more than 250 pallets of merchandise get sorted and organized four to six hours before the Thanksgiving sale. Less than 24 hours later, it’ll turn over again for Black Friday doorbusters.
“It’s like turning the Titanic,” Sharp said. “The manpower and planning is so important to do it seamlessly.”
It’s the first holiday without Toys ‘R’ Us, and even grocery stores are selling toys in hopes of getting a piece of the pie. Best Buy has added Barbies and stuffed animals to its repertoire.
Bhavani Shankar, of Eden Prairie, picked up a remote control car for his 3-year-old daughter, along with a pair of headphones and watch for himself.
“I would never have expected toys at Best Buy,” he said.
Most retail chains have invested in their online shopping operations and are competing to provide speedy delivery of items, whether in stores or with free shipping.
But the tradition of getting to stores early and grabbing good deals seems as strong as ever.
At the Target in Richfield, about 200 people were in line before the store opened at 5 p.m., said spokesman Joshua Thomas.
“There are lots of families here I talked to who had an earlier meal and came out, or who were planning a 7 o’clock meal,” he said. “It’s always fun to give people a chance to shop early.”
Reports from Target stores across the country indicated strong interest in the company’s in-store pickup of online orders, Thomas said. Toys, consumer electronics and housewares were among the popular purchases.
Barb May stopped into Best Buy on strict orders from her grandson.
“He told me what he wanted for Christmas and said I had to be here at 5 p.m.,” she said.