Black Friday changes the shopping experience - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Black Friday changes the shopping experience

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Lisa McCracken, marketing director for the Charleston Town Center, has been with the Forest City-owned mall for 25 of its 30 years in downtown Charleston. Lisa McCracken, marketing director for the Charleston Town Center, has been with the Forest City-owned mall for 25 of its 30 years in downtown Charleston.
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Christmas traditions of old included leisurely strolling downtown with shopping bags in tow, listening to carolers and greeting friends who happen by.

Today, not so much.

The madness that is Black Friday is serious business, to both the shoppers and the retailers.

In fact, if you're not participating, you're advised to avoid the whole scene.

As most men in West Virginia look forward to and plan on opening day of deer buck season, Black Friday is just as serious of a benchmark day for the women of our state, according to the experts.

"It's a fun thing," said Lisa McCracken, marketing director of the Charleston Town Center, regarding Black Friday. "We're seeing a shift in the culture. It's exciting. 

"Black Friday has always represented the opportunity after the family enjoyed their day feasting and getting together and watching football games … to move towards the socialization of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving."

And one gender clearly participates more than the other.

"The focus (of Black Friday) is definitely on women. They're driving most of the shopping," said Robin Urquhart, marketing director at the Meadowbrook Mall in Bridgeport.

Go with a plan

It's not for the faint of heart.

There's definitely a game plan necessary for Black Friday, with strategies implemented by both shoppers and retailers.

The ability to adjust a plan on the fly could be very beneficial as well.

"Last year, we opened our stores at midnight (Thanksgiving night, Friday morning)," McCracken recalled. "The crowds were so great outside waiting to get into the mall, and it was so cold outside, we opened up all of the (exterior) doors early, at 10 p.m. By 11 p.m., there were 1,000 women waiting to get into Victoria's Secret because their doorbusters (deals) were so great. 

"So, the store across our common area — American Eagle — saw that traffic and thought, ‘We have enough (employees) here to open, so let's let some of those shoppers to come in here and spend a little money.' They did, and they made the majority of their day by adding that extra hour. Shoppers were able to spend that hour shopping, and then go to Victoria's Secret." 

Early birds

Retailers first adjusted their Black Friday schedules a few years ago by pushing it earlier than the typical 4 a.m. opening.

And it has paid off well.

"We were surprised," said McCracken. "Our shoppers told us they'd much rather stay up late (Thanksgiving day) and have this festive, party atmosphere, rather than have to go to bed with a full tummy and get back up at 3 o'clock in the morning, get dressed, get the kids up and head out to the stores. They'd rather stay up late and get it done. They had a blast. It was electric. 

"It didn't slow down last year — from 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night until about 3:30 or 4 a.m.," McCracken added. "It was non-stop. Every hour, the department stores had a new deal. All of the teen retailers had great deals, and they scheduled them throughout the night." 

This year, Huntington Mall plans to party on Thanksgiving night, as well. The shopping center plans what it calls "Rock the Mall Midnight Ball," with a radio broadcast, giveaways at the door, throughout the mall and even a free breakfast.

Not everyone pleased

Given the new data, Charleston Town Center and other shopping centers and malls are gearing up for another extreme kickoff this season.

But there are some grumblings from potential shoppers about retailers taking away from one of the biggest traditional family holidays, Thanksgiving, by opening their doors earlier.

"This year, we're seeing an opportunity to better (last year's event), because it was so well-received," McCracken said. "For the folks saying that this is a bad thing, that the retailers shouldn't open (Thanksgiving Day) … if the shoppers wouldn't come, they wouldn't open. The consumer has asked for this. They have embraced it. 

"They came at midnight last year and now they're saying, ‘We'll come a little sooner.' The retailers have all heard that across the country. It's a national trend. Now, it's 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night."

McCracken says she's ready to see what happens.

"Most people have already had their dessert and watched their football games," she said. "They're sitting around. They're not quite ready to go to bed and they've heard Uncle Charley tell the same story two or three times. You've made your lists and you know where you're going to shop, so why not go on out? 

"Will they come out in a full drove Thanksgiving night? We bet they do."

Urquhart said last year was Meadowbrook Mall's first time opening at midnight after Thanksgiving.

"After we did that, we knew that there was no going back. We were amazed," she said. "There were a lot of mothers and daughters that came out — they made it a family event."

Hot gifts this year

Of course, children have been making their Christmas wish lists without much regard to when the turkey hits the table.

Parents will be pleased to find some of their own familiar childhood toys scribbled in crayon, in their kids' letters to Santa.

"The big gifts this year are old favorites," said Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailer's Association. "They're asking for Barbie, Care Bears, My Little Pony and Hot Wheels."