After opening its doors on Thanksgiving last year, the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk in downtown New Orleans is taking a different approach this year to mark the start of the holiday shopping season: waiting for Friday.
"You're going to have some (stores) that would like to be open, and some that would like to be closed," said Riverwalk General Manager Frank Quinn. "We're willing to try things, so we did try it, and while we think it was successful, we would rather stay closed this year and let all of our employees celebrate the holiday with their families."
Still, Quinn doesn't expect business will be hampered too much by the decision to open a day later. In fact, he anticipates a boost from the recent addition of fashion retailer Nordstrom's discount chain, Nordstrom Rack, which anchors the outlet center's upriver end.
"We expect this to be a compelling shopping option for all locals this holiday season," he said.
The Riverwalk will be in good company with its Friday opening.
The nearby Shops at Canal Place, the high-end luxury shopping and entertainment center at the foot of Canal Street, also officially is kicking off the holiday shopping season at 8 a.m. Friday.
"I don't foresee that happening," Lisa Manzella, the center's general manager, said about staying open on Thanksgiving. "Never say never, but we just don't foresee that Canal Place would open on Thanksgiving."
Throughout the greater New Orleans area, another year of deep discounts on big-ticket items is sure to draw shoppers online and into brick-and-mortar retailers this week, whether they head to the stores after the big meal Thursday or put it off until Friday.
Retail analysts are predicting another big year nationally.
Forecasters with the National Retail Federation predict holiday shopping will rise about 3.6 percent this year to nearly $656 billion, with non-store sales increasing to as much as $117 billion.
According to the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, holiday spending — including gifts, travel and entertainment — is expected to climb 10 percent over last year.
Online sales are also expected to capture a bigger piece of the market, rising 25 percent, as more consumers get comfortable with using their cellphones and tablets to cross items off their shopping lists.
PwC's holiday shopping outlook, which is based on a three-month national survey that began in July and polled more than 2,100 consumers and 200 retailers, found that shoppers were primed to spend an average of $1,121 each.
In another holiday survey, Deloitte polled more than 5,000 consumers in the U.S. and found that half planned to buy gifts online, which could slow business for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. In fact, fewer people reported plans to visit physical big-box retail stores, dropping 4 percent to 59 percent overall, the firm said last month.
On average, holiday shoppers plan to buy an average of 14 gifts this year, on par with last year, spending nearly $430 on gifts and gift cards, the firm said.
And three-quarters of the survey respondents indicated that their household's finances were the same as or better than last year, perhaps easing anxiety among some retailers after a presidential election that highlighted fears of economic uncertainty among working-class Americans.
For some U.S. consumers still grappling with the election results, the impending shopping season could provide a distraction, some experts say.
"You have people who will be down and perhaps use shopping as a bit of retail therapy, and so their shopping could increase as a result," said Pamela Kennett-Hensel, a marketing professor at the University of New Orleans. "It's not uncommon that when people get into a bit of a funk or a depression from anything, be it the election or other circumstances, that if they enjoy shopping, the rush that they get from shopping, you'll see their spending increase."
The election results could have the opposite effect as well. "You will also have a group of people who are going to be concerned about the economic forecasts for the country. And if they're negative about that, they may in essence choose not to spend as much," she said.
However, other experts predict less of a correlation.
"I think store-based retailers need to be more concerned with the continued, rapid shift to online and other factors they can't control, like the weather, than they need to worry about the election," said Steven Barr, leader of PwC's U.S. retail and consumer sector.
At the Riverwalk, the outlet mall's roughly 75 retailers did "a fair amount of business" last Thanksgiving, Quinn said, which was somewhat buoyed by an influx of international travelers who were in town for a convention during the holiday weekend. Without the same sort of captive audience this year, he decided to forgo the early start.
Instead, some stores are expanding their Black Friday super big discounts to start them earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, the Shops at Canal Place, which is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and includes retailers like Brooks Brothers and J. Crew, will have coffee, breakfast bites and mimosas on hand for customers Friday morning, and complementary beer and wine on Friday and Saturday and on Saturdays throughout the holiday season.
This year, the center will boast two new retailers: preppy and colorful apparel company Vineyard Vines and Charleston Shoe Co., which offers a line of affordable women's shoes that are billed as being versatile enough for dancing or walking through cobblestone streets. Both stores are Louisiana debuts.
"Tenants typically do really well on Black Friday, but that success continues throughout the holiday season," said Manzella, the upscale mall's general manager.
The shopping center usually sees a dip in foot traffic right after Thanksgiving before business picks up again by the second week of December as the shopping season gets into the home stretch.
To help get in the spirit before then, the annual Canal Street outdoor lighting ceremony is slated for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, 739 Canal St. Officials will turn on roughly two miles of holiday lights throughout downtown and along Convention Center Boulevard.
Despite the changing retail landscape, many retail experts are still counting on long lines to form outside stores on Thanksgiving.
As a bonus for online shoppers, many retailers are advertising incentives such as discounted shipping or same-day delivery throughout the holiday season, likely in an effort to compete with internet juggernaut Amazon.com.
Clint Sampson, store manager of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Northshore Boulevard in Slidell, said customers began showing up by 3 p.m. last Thanksgiving, flipping through ads and formulating their shopping lists and, in some cases, getting a wristband in order to secure popular sale items.
Nearly all of Wal-Mart's major items are available online starting just after midnight on Thursday, he said, clearing the way for more people to take advantage of the sales.
Wal-Mart's roster of high-demand sale items has 11 televisions, including several so-called 4K ultrahigh-definition TVs. Those include a 55-inch Philips TV for $298 and a 50-inch Samsung model for $398.
Despite the push by the retailer to make more items available online, Sampson doesn't expect it will lead to fewer people waiting in line on Thanksgiving.
"It just makes it a whole lot more accessible for other individuals who may not be able to attend the brick-and-mortar release," he said.