Black Friday: Boutiques open at midnight? How ‘little guys’ try to compete.
Many small business owners are looking for their piece of the Black Friday retail pie. But experts say trying to match the big stores may not be the best policy, and warn shoppers to do their homework, too.
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Calling his store an “old fashioned haberdashery,” Mr. Elkus says it is not planning any Black Friday sale but will rely on the store’s personal touch developed over three decades to draw in business.Skip to next paragraph
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“The beauty of our store is personal attention, like the Cheers’ bar, everybody knows your name,” says Elkus. “We don’t feel we need to do something more.”
Elkus’s comments, which more than hint at some residual antipathy toward Black Friday among smaller retailers and some consumers, are like a red flag for Freeman Hall, who worked at Nordstroms, the giant department store, in Southern California for 15 years before becoming a retail blogger, humor author, and self-styled activist on behalf of what he calls sanity in the American workplace.
Claiming that the opening of stores on Thanksgiving is ruining the American psyche, Mr. Hall says he is pushing a “Be Kind to Service Workers Day” to take place Saturday Nov. 24, the day after Black Friday. Other chamber of commerce groups are uniting to call it “Small Business Saturday.”
“I chose this day because many service workers are now forced to work Thanksgiving Day and there is a lot of negative energy surrounding Black Friday and the stress of the upcoming holiday season,” says Hall, author of "Return to the Big Fancy: A Riotous Descent Into the Depths of Customer, Corporate, and Coworker Hell."
He admonishes consumers to beware of hype about Black Friday, noting a recent study by the personal finance website NerdWallet that found that 90 percent of 2012 Black Friday ads have the same merchandise and pricing as the previous year.
Experts on retail marketing say the competition between small and large stores can be beneficial to consumers who know what they are doing, but not all that compelling for the unaware or impulse buyer.
Further, small or unique retailers should also be wary of competing on the same terms as the giant retailers, and instead focus on their own strengths, the experts say.
“Specialty stores should not try to compete with big box retailers and department stores,” says Ron Friedman, a senior retail analyst at the New York-based accounting firm Marcum, LLP.
“They need to realize and concentrate on what they do that is unique and can’t be gotten elsewhere – such as creative, non-mass-produced products, great quality service and personal attention.”
And the consumer, he says, needs to do his or her homework before wandering out into a mall.
“Buyers should go online ahead of time to know what are the prices of what they want and be prepared,” says Mr. Friedman. “Some might find they can get wanted items just as cheaply – or more so – online.”
Others say this is the time for both smaller retailers and consumers to hold back and get the lay of the land for later shopping.
“By seeing what shoppers want, smaller retailers can know better whether they need to hold more tightly to what they have, or discount it,” says Michael A. Levin, an assistant business professor at Otterbein University in Ohio.
Sometimes, he and others say, the allure to buy can have nothing to do with the price of the product, meaning retailers can pull in shoppers long after the Black Friday sales hysteria has faded.
“The last-minute promoter can put out e-mail blasts, Twitter feeds, and Facebook alerts that they are doing something no one is expecting … like ice cream and cookies, or a clown and balloons for kids,” says Levin. “This can help break the monotony for shoppers, establish a personal connection for sales long after Black Friday.”