Sales expected to increase
Though fewer shoppers will hit the malls, that's not to say Black Friday is going to be a bust.
Retailers project Black Friday sales will increase 2.6 percent over 2015, according to data from the accounting firm BDO USA. That's a slightly smaller uptick than what's projected for the entire season.
Holiday sales overall are expected to increase 4.7 percent, a BDO survey of retail chief marketing officers found.
Also, more Americans say they plan to shop online on Black Friday than in stores. Our survey found that 26 percent of adults intend to hunt for holiday deals online the day after Thanksgiving.
And the Bankrate survey found consumers plan to spend more on Black Friday than in the past. Median spending is expected to increase to $300 this year, compared with $200 when we last asked consumers in 2014.
One-quarter of all shoppers say they expect to spend between $251 and $500, the most frequent answer given on the survey.
"I think there will always be a highlight to (Black Friday)," says Natalie Kotlyar, BDO's national leader of the consumer business practice. "I think it's a way for retailers to create more excitement, and excitement equals sales."
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Will shoppers flock to Cyber Monday?
Although experts expect holiday sales to continue their gradual shift away from brick-and-mortar stores to online merchants, consumers aren't much more excited about Cyber Monday events than they were in the past. Twenty-seven percent of adults say they plan to shop online the Monday after Thanksgiving, up from 25 percent in 2014.
And median Cyber Monday spending is expected to remain unchanged from two years ago at $200, our survey found.
Similar to their in-store promotions, retailers will continue to offer online discounts throughout the season, reducing the urgency for consumers to flock online on a specific day, Kohan says.
That's not to say there won't be deals to be had.
"Cyber Monday is a big day. It's always a big day," Kohan says. "I do think discounts will be there on Cyber Monday."
In all, some 38 percent of consumers plan to shop online on either Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Just 28 percent say they will travel to a store to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.
Even though more adults plan to participate in Cyber Monday than will head to physical stores on Black Friday, that shouldn't be taken as evidence internet shopping has eclipsed the mall or big-box store.
In-store purchases still account for 79 percent of holiday shopping, says Matt Swan, director of monetization at Native Commerce, an e-commerce and digital marketing company.
"In-store brick and mortar is still king," he says.
No love for Thanksgiving shopping
Fewer retailers than in previous years will be open on Thanksgiving, but major stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy will welcome post-turkey-dinner shoppers. There is little evidence consumers are demanding this.
Just 15 percent of Americans plan to shop in stores on Thanksgiving, according to the Bankrate survey. Fifteen percent say they will shop online during the holiday, as well.
Those consumers who do leave the cranberry sauce and their families behind, plan to spend big. Median spending is expected to top $300, our survey found, with more than one-quarter of all shoppers predicting they'll spend between $251 and $500.
What to expect when shopping
If you're planning to shop in-store or online during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, here's what to expect from retailers:
- More opportunities to purchase online and pick-up in store for faster delivery, Swan says.
- Some holdouts. Just 14 percent of retailers are planning most of their promotions this weekend, according to BDO.
- Free or expedited shipping in more instances.
- Clearer price-matching policies from more retailers, Kohan says.
- "Heavy deal-driven promotions to drive foot traffic" from struggling department stores, says Kelli Hollinger, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School.
- Perks for customers who show up in-store, like free drinks, Nelson says.
"Because of its strong history, Black Friday has become a tradition for some families as their kickoff to the holiday spending season," Hollinger says. "The event will have legs for years to come, but perhaps not decades to come."
Methodology: Bankrate's Money Pulse survey was conducted Nov. 3-6, 2016, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (500) and cellphone (500, including 304 without a landline phone). Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the complete set of data.