In an annual rite of the pre-holiday season, local retailers are readying for the shopping extravaganza known as Black Friday, and while they exude confidence that sales will be strong, they clearly are sparing no efforts to make sure their year-end sprint for profits doesn’t fall short.
Some stores plan to repeat a strategy they launched last year by opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day and welcoming shoppers continuously through the end of Black Friday.
Other merchants put their Black Friday pricing into effect weeks before Thanksgiving in an effort to draw shoppers in earlier.
“We’re trying to spread the business out as opposed to having it all in one day,” said Richard Savoie, owner of Richie Savoie’s New Orleans Audio & Video in Harahan, which put its Black Friday deals into effect in early November.
“We don’t want people to think they can only get a special deal on one day,” he said.
A few retailers last year cited a shorter-than-usual period — 26 days — between Thanksgiving and Christmas as a reason to implement marathon-like shopping hours. But this year, despite having a full four weeks between the two holidays, Macy’s and J.C. Penney will again open many of their stores, including those at Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie, beginning in the early evening on Thanksgiving Day.
The stores will operate continuously until 10 p.m. on Friday, with plans to re-open as early as 7 a.m. on Saturday.
Lakeside Shopping Center itself will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to allow all its tenants the option of operating that evening, according to a mall spokeswoman.
It’s hardly a surprise to see merchants pulling out the stops for holiday shoppers given that many retailers rack up as much as 40 percent of their annual sales during this crucial period. But their zeal in some cases may point to underlying fears that the season won’t be as robust as hoped.
While many national economic indicators have strengthened during the past year, the retail industry overall is not entirely convinced.
The National Retail Federation last month predicted that total retail sales in November and December will top sales for the same period in 2013 by about 4 percent.
The retail industry sometimes tends toward optimistic projections, but consulting giant Deloitte also envisioned a bright shopping season, recently citing “steadily improving economic fundamentals” in forecasting that sales will rise as much as 4.5 percent above last year’s holidays.
Yet, weeks before Black Friday, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart lowered their own forecasts, predicting their sales will soften as the year draws toward an end.
Still, retail watchers in the local area say that because Louisiana’s economy has been a little stronger than many other parts of the country in recent years, the holiday season, too, could be more robust.
In New Orleans, sales tax collections through September were more than 7 percent higher than collections for the same period in 2013, according to figures provided by the city.
Rhonda Sharkawy, a retail leasing executive with Stirling Properties LLC, said another indicator of the strength of the local consumer market is the number of retailers entering or expanding throughout the area.
“We anticipate that sales will improve over last year not only based on the national economy improving but also on growth in Louisiana,” she said.
Sharkawy said retail leasing and new retail development is brisk, and points to such projects as South Market District and Magnolia Marketplace underway in New Orleans, and the second stage of the Fremaux Town Center development set to kick off in Slidell.
Magnolia Marketplace not only had a full complement of tenants by the time construction began, but has a waiting list of retailers who hope to get in at some point, Sharkawy said.
While retail expansion is increasing local competition, managers at one of the area’s newest malls don’t seem to be feeling the heat.
Frank Quinn, general manager of The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, said the riverside mall, which has been open less than six months, drew more than 1 million shoppers within its first 10 weeks of operation and is “doing phenomenally well.”
Tenants plan to keep the momentum up through the holidays, he said.
Located adjacent to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and local cruise ship terminals, the mall, which features outlet stores of major brands including Neiman Marcus Last Call, Coach and Forever 21, draws heavily from visiting shoppers as well as locals. Quinn said it is poised to make the most of the holidays.
The Riverwalk will be open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Black Friday and will have extended hours through the following weekend and beyond, he said. The Riverwalk is decorating extensively for the holidays, including an exterior lighting system that will sync with an outdoor display set up by the Downtown Development District on Spanish Plaza, at the mall’s entrance.
A 40-foot-tall Christmas tree anchors the display on the plaza, which will become a hub for music, holiday movies and children’s activities through the season, Quinn said.
Santa Claus will be on hand in the mall to do photos with children from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., having started Saturday, he said.
Just across Canal Street, similar efforts are underway at The Shops at Canal Place, home to Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers and a host of upscale specialty retailers.
“We’re excited for the holiday season, and all indications show that we should expect a brisk Thanksgiving holiday weekend, as well as throughout December,” said Lisa Manzella, the mall’s general manager.
Canal Place will greet Black Friday shoppers with morning coffee, pastries and mimosas, she said. This year, shoppers also will find complimentary wine and beer in the afternoon.
Manzella said Canal Place has had “great success” with the morning refreshments in past years and decided to add wine and beer after noticing that shoppers “are starting to stay downtown longer throughout the day.”
The mall will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Black Friday, but a few stores will open earlier, she said.
Manzella said the retailers have scheduled many promotions, but also are likely to make heavy use of social media to announce “pop-up” deals as the season progresses.
“These quick announcements have the ability to generate a great boost in holiday sales,” she said.
Web-savvy shoppers, of course, present another category of competition for retailers who operate primarily from physical stores. Deloitte’s holiday forecast predicted a jump of more than 13 percent in online and mail-order holiday buying this year, and online pricing promotions are likely to be frenzied.
Electronics retailer Savoie hopes to head off the competition with a guarantee to match online prices and a promise to pay customers’ sales taxes on their holiday purchases at New Orleans Audio & Video.
Savoie said he has a customer list that contains thousands of email addresses. He plans to promote and update his Black Friday deals through a series of email blasts throughout the season.