UT Expert: More Deals, More Consumer Bargain-Hunting this Holiday Season

Call it the “Christmas creep.”

Black Friday—the official start of the holiday shopping season—is two weeks away, but retailers are already offering exclusive deals to attract consumers who began their bargain-hunting months ago.

It’s a boon for the shopper but with a caveat: “The consumer is going to have to do a little more homework and dig deeper to find those great discounts,” said Ann Fairhurst, a retail professor and head of the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management. “You’re seeing this Christmas creep and people are shopping earlier and earlier. Consumers welcome the opportunity to spread out their holiday shopping over several months instead of six weeks.”

Last year, the average consumer spent nine hours researching bargains. This year, he or she is projected to spend at least thirteen hours. In 2012, the average consumer referenced five sources for bargain information. In 2013, shoppers referenced twelve sources, with more likely this year.

“There’s a little bit of an increase in consumer confidence but I think shoppers are still cautious,” Fairhurst said. “Throughout the year, rising costs of health care and housing, along with stagnant wage growth, affected their income, and the money they can set aside for holiday shopping has decreased.”

The National Retail Federation projects a 4.1 percent growth in holiday sales over last year, she said, which means retailers still have time to beef up their bottom line. They’re already offering “friends and family” deals, daily discounts, free shipping, and other promotions typically tied to Black Friday to get shoppers in the door now.

Some retailers, including Costco, Dillard’s, Publix, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s and T.J. Maxx, may be winning consumer loyalty by staying closed on Thanksgiving Day so their employees can enjoy family time—bucking a growing trend of retailers that are opening their doors earlier and earlier.

“Some surveys show that a large percentage of consumers hate or dislike retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day,” Fairhurst said.

The motive for staying closed, however, may not always be altogether altruistic. “When you drill down, you’ll find that for some, the Thanksgiving Day sales diluted their Black Friday sales and revenue,” Fairhurst said.

The good news this year: many retailers are projecting they’ll add a higher level of seasonal employees than they have since 1999, she said. In hopes of having a better shopping season, they anticipate hiring at least 800,000 holiday workers to accommodate sales and deliver goods on time.

For the consumer who just has to have that Black Friday shopping experience, not to worry: “There are still opportunities to get involved in the madness and standing in line to get the deals,” Fairhurst said.

CONTACT:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)