Black Friday Bleed-through

Growing up, my family’s Thanksgiving traditions were fairly simple: Bake pies the night before, get up early and cook all day on Thanksgiving (I have always been in charge of the deviled eggs) and await the arrival of our extended family.

Then … hug, laugh, eat, drink, play games, take naps, eat again and relax together.

Another tradition my mother and I had was to make fun of anyone crazy enough to go out on the day after Thanksgiving and stand in throngs of people to get deals on toys or clothes or whatever. “Those people are insane,” we’d chime in together.

About four years ago, I crossed over to the dark side. I became one of those insane people, getting up at 3 a.m. and taking five-hour energy shots. I blame my husband. And this one really amazing deal on a television at Walmart, which tempted me into starting a new tradition. (We still have the TV and it was a really good deal.)

But, even a good deal doesn’t excuse the recent trend of retailers moving up their shopping hours. Kmart, for instance, opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and stayed open for 41 additional hours.

Kmart isn’t the only culprit. Best Buy, Target and Kohl’s, among others, all opened earlier this year. At least, with the exception of Kmart, the retailers opened at 6 p.m. or later.

An issue that is also in play is the never-ending battle between brick-and-mortar retailers and online options. More companies are beginning their online deals earlier while brick-and-mortar operations are looking for ways to stay relevant.

While I am not one to tell businesses that they shouldn’t open whenever and however they want to, I can at least do my part and not support it. So there might be a great deal on pots and pans at Kmart this year, but I won’t be there to find out until after Thanksgiving is said and done.

If you decided to go out on Thanksgiving, I hope you remembered that your employer gave you time to be away from the workplace, but not everyone gets that. Hopefully you were courteous to those employees who helped you get through your holiday shopping, and took a moment to thank them for their hard work.

Giving thanks … that’s what the holiday is for anyway, right?

Holiday Shopping: How to be Nice — Not Naughty — this Season

With Black Friday quickly approaching, gift giving is on my mind. As visions of loved ones opening their presents dance in my head, a less heartwarming thought creeps in: how to deal with poor customer service.

I’m not talking about retailers’ professionalism – I’m referring to impolite (and often downright rude) – customers.

I’ll never forget the year that a new employee was working the day after Thanksgiving at one of my favorite stores. As I stood in a long line for what felt like an eternity, I enviously watched shoppers in the other lines pay for their items and leave. Was I frustrated? Yes. Was I envisioning cookies from the food court as lunchtime approached and my stomach started growling? Of course. But some of my fellow shoppers were acting like they wanted to take a bite out of the rookie!

I’ve never seen so many people angrily rolling their eyes or folding their arms at once. I wanted to shout, “’Bah humbug!” at the top of my lungs. Fortunately, I refrained.

As the holiday season gets underway, the following tips on how to be a good customer may enhance your shopping experience and make an employee’s workday a bit more merry:

  • Do your homework and ask questions. Check out consumer recalls before purchasing toys and gifts for children. Know what the warranty covers, learn the store’s return policy, make sure you will be able to pay off a cartful of merchandise you put on layaway and check out online reviews.
  • Practice patience. Holidays and resulting crowds can put even the most patient on edge. Rather than attack a store employee because a product is not in stock or because the checkout line is a mile long, remember what your mother taught you about always being polite. "Please," "thank you" and "have a nice day" are words that can never be said too much.
  • Be courteous. Those long checkout lines often arise because customers are not prepared to present items for check out or have their credit card or check ready when it’s time to make payment. Do not get mad if the store will not honor competitors’ coupons; check before you go to the store.
  • Do your part: Standing at the cash register is not the time to suddenly realize you have neither wallet nor checkbook. It is definitely not the time for a conversation on your cell phone.

Tis the Season for Shopping — or Saving

Along with the time-honored traditional holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day – another “holiday” is analyzed by industry experts and anticipated by shoppers around the country: Black Friday.

While the infamous day after Thanksgiving might get the most recognition for impacting retailer’s bottom lines and taking them from the red to the black (hence the name “Black” Friday), the entire holiday shopping season serves as a temperature reading of consumer spending and saving.

This year, direct marketing company Valpak acknowledges through its semi-annual consumer savings report that shoppers are displaying “cautiously optimistic” shopping habits. According to the report, about 75% of shoppers plan to spend the same or even more on holiday purchases, while 22% of shoppers will spend less than they did in 2009.

The company surveyed 1,000 households in the United States and Canada to get the data.

One trend that was common among shoppers was that more than half use coupons on their holiday-related purchases (including gifts, entertainment and travel); about 52% of holiday shoppers told Valpak that they shop with coupons to get the most out of their budgets during the holidays.

Of those that use coupons, 70% clip and save those coupons for toys, games and electronics, while nearly 60% use coupons to cut holiday costs on food, catering and groceries.

Other notable statistics in the report include travel and other big purchase intentions for the holiday season. Comparing this holiday season’s results to an earlier survey in May, the shopping trends are similar in travel (down 4% from the earlier survey), interior home improvement (up 5%), TV/home electronics (up 6%), auto (22% compared to 24% earlier) and exterior home improvement (22% in both surveys).