Like millions of other Americans, Chattanoogan Ginger Pierce and her mother, Brenda Rayburn, will get up early Friday and head to the mall to begin their shopping for the Christmas holidays.
It's a tradition they have had since Ginger was in fifth grade.
After scouring the newspaper advertisements Thursday night for the best sales, the mother-daughter team will head to the stores for an opportunity to get some great deals as well as get in the holiday spirit.
"It's kind of like our unofficial start of the Christmas season and something we enjoy doing every year," Pierce said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's an exciting atmosphere and a lot of fun. We try to knock out as much of our Christmas shopping as we can that day, so for the rest of the season we can sort of sit back and enjoy the season."
Retailers are planning to open before dawn Friday for the kickoff of the holiday sales season and hope to lure shoppers back into their stores for Christmas shopping after two years of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and growing competition from online retailers.
The electronics retailer Best Buy opens at 5 a.m., while Walmart opens its big box stores at 6 a.m., when Sportsman's Warehouse and other retailers also launch their doorbuster sales. Most retailers, including those at Hamilton Place and Northgate malls, are opening at 7 a.m. Friday.
"I think everything that we've seen, and the traffic we've had in the past week or so, indicates it's going to be a pretty strong Black Friday weekend," Stacey Keating, vice president of corporate communications for mall owner CBL Properties, said by phone. "Customers are deal-conscious this year, perhaps more than in some other years, so we definitely expect shoppers will be seeking out the many deals retailers are offering this weekend."
For those that can't wait until Friday, Dollar General is opening its stores from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and is promoting a number of one-day sales for the holiday.
But unlike a few years before the pandemic when many retailers opened their stores Thanksgiving night, most merchants are keeping their stores closed Thanksgiving Day to give employees a brief reprieve before one of the biggest -- and longest -- shopping weekends.
Black Friday and the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend are projected to attract more than 166 million shoppers from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, according to projections by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. That's up almost 8 million from last year and is the highest estimate since the retail federation began tracking such data in 2017.
"While there is much speculation about inflation's impact on consumer behavior, our data tells us that this Thanksgiving holiday weekend will see robust store traffic with a record number of shoppers taking advantage of value pricing," federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the group's annual holiday forecast. "We are optimistic that retail sales will remain strong in the weeks ahead, and retailers are ready to meet consumers however they want to shop with great products at prices they want to pay."
In its annual holiday forecast, the retail federation predicted holiday sales growth will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, compared with the blistering 13.5% growth of a year ago. Much of that increase in sales reflects the jump in inflation this year, which has boosted prices at the fastest pace in nearly four decades.
Holiday sales have risen an average of 4.9% during the past decade, but Americans ramped up spending during the pandemic. The retail federation expects sales in November and December to reach $942.6 billion to $960.4 billion.
More than one-fourth of those surveyed by the federation for its forecast said Black Friday shopping has become a holiday tradition during the Thanksgiving weekend, drawing some of the biggest crowds of the year to shopping centers and malls.
The busiest shopping day of the year is usually "Super Saturday" on the Saturday before Christmas. But the Thanksgiving weekend draws the biggest share of shoppers overall due to special deals offered by many retailers. In the survey, 59% of respondents said they are shopping because the deals are too good to pass up.
Sales of all types
Stephen Lebovitz, president of the Chattanooga-based CBL that owns Hamilton Place, Northgate and more than 50 other shipping malls across the country, said he's optimistic for a healthy close to 2022.
"Retailers are well stocked and aggressively promoting their business," Lebovitz said last week in the company's quarterly earnings report. "Brick-and-mortar stores are a key ingredient to success in today's retail world."
For many retailers, holiday shopping generates the biggest month of buying from consumers of any time of the year. Even car dealers, furniture stores and mattress retailers are promoting Black Friday sales.
Roger Pickett, president of MurMaid Mattress in Chattanooga, said consumers have grown to look for bedding and mattress bargains around the holidays "and this is a big day for us."
In a telephone interview, Pickett said MurMaid Mattress will be featuring Black Friday deals to entice shoppers into its 11 area stores, which are open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
"The home furnishings industry came through two peak years during the pandemic, and last year was our best year ever," Pickett said. "Now we're trying to compare our sales to 2019 before the pandemic, and so far this year, we're a little ahead. We're eager to have a big weekend."
Although employment remains at historic highs, many shoppers appear to be approaching the holiday season with more caution than a year ago after a year of inflation outpacing wage gains for most workers and investment income dropping from the decline on Wall Street.
A Chattanooga Times Free Press survey of Hamilton County voters going to the polls earlier this month found that 41% believe their personal financial situation is worse than a year ago, compared with 18% who said their personal finances were better in the past year.
"The Federal Reserve is clearly trying to slow the growth of the economy, and we are seeing more signs of caution, but the Tennessee economy remains relatively strong and consumers are continuing to buy," said Don Bruce, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Growth at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
With inflation hitting a 40-year high and the stock market down more than 16% so far this year, more shoppers are buying on credit.
"Across consumers, we can also see that savings are being drawn down and credit usage is going up," Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said this week in a conference call with industry analysts. "And value clearly matters to everyone. We continue to see more interest in sales events geared at exceptional value."
Barry said he expects there will be more customer shopping activity concentrated around Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the two weeks leading up to Dec. 25.
Best Buy Co. Inc. is forecasting a smaller drop in annual sales than it had previously estimated, promising discounts that will bring in more inflation-weary customers during the holiday season.
A national survey of consumers by Deloitte found bargain hunting is on the rise this year with consumers saying they plan to spend 50% of their holiday budget during the Thanksgiving weekend and subsequent Cyber Monday at the start of next week. That's up from the 43% of holiday budgets spent during the weekend a year ago.