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November 28, 2008 5:09 pm
The woman leaving the Target discount store at the Eastwood Mall in Niles, Ohio, just after 7am on Friday seemed a little perplexed by the bustling pre-dawn scene. “Right, there’s a real bad economy out there. Yeah. Uh-huh.”
Behind her, the lines at Target’s check-out counters stretched 40 to 50 people deep into the rear of the store, with shoppers pushing carts loaded with “door-buster” specials, such as the Target-exclusive FurReal Friends voice-programmable parrot for $24.99.
Outside, the vast parking lot was full, as local shoppers ignored the cold temperatures and the snow on the ground to head to the stores for the traditional post-Thanksgiving sales.
Two hours earlier and a few miles away, the crowds at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter had been similar, with cars again cruising the parking lot looking for spaces.
Jessica Baldwin, who had just bought two plasma flat-screen televisions for over $1,100 at Wal-Mart, as well as some pyjamas for her children, said that she was not cutting back on her spending this year, although she thought that she “probably ought to”.
Michelle Croyle, who was in a line of over 50 people waiting to pick up Kodak cameras at Wal-Mart also said that she planned to carry on as normal, despite the national mood. “I’ll just write a cheque if I have to,” she joked.
But most leading US retailers are predicting that their holiday sales will decline this year, even though Friday’s pre-dawn traffic seemed, in northeast Ohio at least, to be at least on a par with or above previous years.
With similar scenes being reported at malls across the country, Tracy Mullin, president of the National Retail Federation, said in a statement that “the deep discounts on the hottest holiday items may have been just enough to get the attention of those consumers who were on the fence” about going on to shop.
The three-day weekend accounted for around 10 per cent of total holiday season retail sales last year, with the opening day dubbed “Black Friday” because it historically marked the day on which retailers balance sheets could be expected to turn positive for the year.
The early morning crowds this year were driven by unprecedented promotional price-cutting that reflects the pressure on amid the steep declines in discretionary spending that continued into the first weeks of November.
Inside the Eastwood Mall – where the stores began opening their doors this year at 4am - American Eagle Outfitters, the youth clothing store, was offering 25 per cent of its entire stock for the day. Pacific Sunwear, a teen-clothing store that recently slashed its fourth quarter earnings guidance on falling sales, was offering a 35 per cent storewide discount.
Meanwhile, at one end of the mall, the local branch of Steve & Barry’s was a reminder to retailers of the costs of failure. New owners who had tried to bring the 173-store chain out of bankruptcy abandoned the effort last week; yellow and black “Everything Must Go” signs in its windows were on Friday announcing the chain’s final liquidation sale.
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