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Retail experts say Black Friday bodes well for consumers, will challenge sellers

MADISON (WKOW) — Black Friday signals the start to the holiday shopping season and crunch time for retailers across the country.

According to Jerry O’Brien, Executive Director of the Kohl’s Center for Retailing at UW-Madison, while the crowds may not seem as big as they did a decade ago, Thanksgiving weekend still brings out roughly 170 million shoppers. That’s why, he said it’s still serious business for big box retailers.

“This is where consumers spend and decide who wins and who doesn’t,” he said.

For shoppers like Natasha Weaver, it’s a weekend worth waiting for all year.

“This is a tradition for me and my kids,” she said. “We go out every Black Friday.”

Weaver said she’s not loyal to any particular store, but goes wherever she believes the deals are best. This year, she decided that was Best Buy.

“I gotta get a TV,” she said.

O’Brien said this is a growing trend for consumers. With more options than ever, he said retailers need to work extra hard to get them to come through their doors.

“Some retailers have reacted better to those changes in expectations than others so they’re doing better,” he said. “Some are struggling to figure out what the consumer wants from them and they are plateauing or decreasing a little bit and some just didn’t make it.”

To O’Brien, the key is listening to and anticipating what consumers want.

He said this year, experts are expecting a 40 percent increase in consumers who choose to shop on multiple platforms, whether that’s online, in-store or on store apps. O’Brien said that means stores will have to meet customers where they are, giving buyers a lot of power.

“I don’t see anything but consumers winning,” he said. “They’re going to try to be open when you want them to be open, they’re going to deliver when you want them to deliver.”

As for which stores are going to be successful, O’Brien said it will be the ones that figure out how to cater to customer needs through quick and friendly service.

“It’s a time where, it’s hard to think of an idea that shouldn’t be tried, and then you hear whether the consumers accepted that or not,” he said.

This season comes with a special challenge. With Thanksgiving on Nov. 28, this will be one of the shortest shopping seasons in years.

In Wisconsin, O’Brien said retailers are also watching the weather.

“If we have a lot of bad weather it’s going to shorten the season even more,” he said.

They’ll need snow-free weekends from now until Christmas to help keep customers motivated to come to their stores.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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