WALLA WALLA -- Amy Glase looked out from the gallery of windows at downtown retailer Studio Opal this morning to find another day of a slightly nagging trend: empty parking spaces along Main Street.
"I've been noticing this for about the last month," she said. "It usually picks up after 2 p.m., but the mornings are pretty quiet."
The shortage of shoppers could be due to plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. Or to the crush of snow and cold temperatures shrouding the city. But it's also just as likely to be reflective of a shopping mindset as consumers prepare for the kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
Of the 138 million people who plan to shop Black Friday weekend more than half want to make sure the bargains are worth braving the cold and crowds, according to the National Retail Federation.
"The rules for Black Friday have changed significantly, said NRF President and Chief Executive Office Matthew Shay, in a statement. "Instead of waiting until Thanksgiving Day to announce their promotions, many retailers are getting shoppers excited about Black Friday by offering sneak peeks of deals in advance, using social media to create buzz, or teasing upcoming deals on their websites."
Retailers are pulling out all the stops to get shoppers into the buying mood.
More stores will be opening earlier for Black Friday, the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping kickoff. And many of them will be offering more doorbusters, the deeply discounted items used to entice consumers into the stores.
Sears has advertised it will open at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. WalMart's sales are expected to begin at midnight Black Friday. And Macy's, which has traditionally opened its doors a little later than the discount department stores on Black Friday, plans to open its doors at 4 a.m. Across the street, the artisan owners of Studio Opal are also planning their own Black Friday celebration, Glase said. Starting at 10 a.m., the shop's inventory will be marked down 30 percent. Select pieces will be discounted 40 percent. And prices on the store's 50-percent-off inventory will be cut by another 50 percent.
The Black Friday sale is a little different for Studio Opal, Glase said. Though more often associated with the major retailers, the sale could help boost local shopping, she said.
"I feel like people are really Internet shopping, and I know a large population drives to the Tri-Cities," she lamented. "If downtown kind of makes that effort and offers kind of a fun discount it might keep people shopping locally."
Forecasts for holiday shopping have been mixed. Some analysts are estimating little change, while others are predicting increases in spending up to 4.5 percent, according to a Bloomberg report. The NRF predicts a gain of 2.3 percent to $447.1 billion after an uptick of 0.4 percent last year and a 3.9 percent drop in 2008.
The season is critical for many retailers, but perhaps none more than jewelers, the federation reports. Last year's holiday shopping season -- defined as November and December sales when holidays include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa -- accounted for 30 percent of all sales for jewelers.
Downtown retailer Skip Cundiff of Falkenberg's Jewelers said he's "cautiously optimistic" for a better season than last year. "It's been a struggle. It's definitely been a lot tougher the last couple of years," Cundiff said.
He's tried to offset the downturn in the economy with a positive attitude. In the wake of the recession he posted a sign in his Main Street window, rebuking the doom and gloom of the recession's woes. Several other merchants were inspired and asked for copies of the sign. Cundiff has a few more for those who want to spread the cheer.
Meanwhile, he's looking for a little cheer this season in the form of sales. He said the onslaught of customers may come in to browse during Black Friday weekend. But many don't make their final purchases until the last couple of weeks before Christmas. He's not expecting a banner year. But he is expecting a better one.
"I think the worst is hopefully behind us," he said. "I think people are ready to kind of celebrate the season again."
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.
HOLIDAY SHOPPING BY THE NUMBERS:
- 40: Percentage of people who started holiday shopping last year before Halloween
- 56: Percentage of consumers who say everyday low prices or sales were the biggest influence in deciding where to shop
- 3.5: Average number of gift cards people purchased last holiday season
- $39.80: Average amount of each of those gift cards
- 27: Percentage of people who say they prefer to buy gift cards because they allow recipients to choose the gift
- 79 million: The number of people who shopped on Black Friday last year
- 1 in 3: The number of those shoppers who were at the stores by 5 a.m. on Black Friday
- $343.31: The amount the average Black Friday shopper spent Thursday through Sunday
- 8: The percentage of people who had finished their shopping by Cyber Monday
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Why is the day after Thanksgiving referred to as Black Friday?
The day got its name because it was traditionally celebrated as the day of the year when retailers went from debt to profitability. Today it's the ceremonial kickoff to the holiday shopping season and known for its mega-sales and promotions.
Is Black Friday the busiest shopping day of the year?
It was last year, according to ShopperTrak. But that's not always the case. Usually the Saturday before Christmas takes top honors. The National Retail Federation does not monitor or track sales by day.
What is Cyber Monday?
The online equivalent to Black Friday takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving. The term was reportedly coined because of a consumer trend that retailers began to notice in 2003 and 2004. Many consumers too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or who did not find what they were looking for shopped online that Monday. Though many online retailers see a sales spike on Cyber Monday, it is similar to Black Friday in that it is not always the busiest online shopping day of the year.
2010 TOP TOYS FOR BOYS
1. Video Games
3. Cars (generic)
4. Disney Toy Story
5. Hot Wheels
7. Xbox 360
8. Fisher-Price Toys
9. Iron Man
10. Nintendo Wii (tied)
10. Trucks (generic) (tied)
2010 TOP TOYS FOR GIRLS
3. Dora the Explorer
4. Video Games
5. Disney Princess
6. Zhu Zhu Pets
7. American Girl
8. Fisher-Price Toys
9. Disney Hannah Montana
Information provided by the National Retail Federation.