Retailers adjust to shifting landscape for holiday retail

A poster in downtown Hermiston advertises Small Business Saturday.

Black Friday just isn’t what it used to be.

For years, the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza used to mean waking up at 4 a.m. to snatch up cheap electronics and deeply discounted designer shoes.

Over the past decade, however, Black Friday has been joined by Thanksgiving Day sales, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. This year, retailers like Amazon and Best Buy were offering “early Black Friday” sales before Thanksgiving week even began.

Randy Smith, who owns Smitty’s Ace Hardware and Smitty’s Outpost in Hermiston with his wife Tammy, said the morning of Black Friday itself has taken on less significance in recent years as sales have been spread out over November and December.

“It’s taking a different form,” he said. “The urgency isn’t what it once was, but the deals are as good as ever.”

Ace Hardware started its sales early, but Smitty’s Outpost saved some specials for Black Friday.

Smith said diluting the holiday shopping rush has pros and cons for retailers.

“There’s not as much pressure, but it was also exciting and different, and the drama was kind of fun to manage,” he said.

The Smiths are third-generation owners of the business, which started in 1948 — predating the Black Friday craze. The phrase “Black Friday,” as it pertained to post-Thanksgiving shopping, was popularized in Philadelphia in the 1960s by police in the city who dreaded trying to manage crowds of holiday shoppers coming in to the city. By the 1980s it had spread nationwide, and retailers had come up with a more positive connotation for the name by noting that the profits from holiday shopping put them “in the black” financially for the year.

Beverly Harris, manager of the Hermiston Walmart Supercenter, said Walmart has officially shifted the start of its special deals from Friday morning to Thursday night in response to customer demand.

“Thursday is just a gigantic day for us,” she said.

She said as businesses have spread out their biggest holiday deals, it helps customers save money. Instead of choosing which store to hit first on Friday morning and possibly missing out on the best deals elsewhere, they can be there when the doors open at multiple locations.

Harris, who has worked for Walmart for 13 years, said there is also less congestion in the store because many customers are ordering things online instead.

“It won’t be like you saw it back in the day when we opened at 4:00 or 5:00 (a.m.) and people were waiting in line outside the doors and run through the doors,” she said.

While some see the holiday shopping frenzy the weekend of Thanksgiving as a negative display of commercialism, Harris referenced Walmart’s motto of saving people money so they can live better.

“Walmart is proud to be able to provide an opportunity for people to give gifts they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford,” she said.

Small Business Saturday

While retailers of all sizes often offer deals the weekend after Thanksgiving, small businesses have been getting an extra focus over the past few years as Small Business Saturday has caught on.

Goss Family Jewlers, located on Hermiston’s Main Street, is one of the small businesses participating in Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, with 20 percent off jewelry. James Goss said he doesn’t usually see a big rush the weekend after Thanksgiving, because people tend to be traveling out of town for the four-day weekend.

“We get a few, but I think people go up to the Tri-Cities,” he said.

But because he does custom work, overall he does see an increase around the holidays from people who are interested in a unique gift for their loved ones. Elk ivory jewelry is especially popular, he said.

Kathy Baker of Fun Fashions Boutique in Stanfield said she is doing Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales. She said in the past she has seen a definite uptick in business the weekend after Thanksgiving. But she also knows that a lot of local shoppers head straight to the bigger cities that weekend instead.

“People think they are going to find better deals in the Tri-Cities,” she said.

Sometimes they will, she acknowledged, but they won’t always find the same personal touch of customer service, or unique items. People come to Fun Fashions Boutique for the line of Christian T-shirts Baker carries, for example, that wouldn’t be found at the mall.

Debbie Pedro, director of the Greater Hermiston Area Chamber of Commerce, said for Small Business Saturday people should be able to find out about plenty of great deals by checking out local business’s Facebook pages and radio and newspaper advertisements.

“It’s really exciting to see each one of our businesses really participate,” she said.

Pedro put in a plug for shopping local year-round, but particularly during the holiday season. It’s an opportunity for people to support their friends and neighbors, she said, and make sure that money continues to circulate throughout the community.

“There is an opportunity to buy just about anything you need right here in Hermiston,” she said.

Hermiston will have even more shopping options once the long-awaited Ranch & Home opens on South Highway 395. A manager at the Hermiston store confirmed on Monday the business is planning to open in mid-December, and job listings are prominently displayed on its website.

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