NEW YORK — Retailers awaiting the arrival of Black Friday are on the edge. How well they do during the biggest shopping season of the year will have lasting consequences not just on them, but the still-fragile economic recovery.
This weekend, many stores will for the first time use midnight openings along with the usual bevy of deals as they try to lure consumers, whose appetites for good-buys has been increasing since the Great Recession.
Economists and business executives will be watching closely.
“A bad holiday season would raise recession fears again, whereas a strong one would start to dispel those fears,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody’s Analytics.
That would give companies more impetus to step up hiring, he added.
As usual, success largely will depend on consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity. Their spending can impact stores’ expansion plans and inventory decisions into the new year.
And that trickles through the rest of the economy, from suppliers to jobs.
The November-December period accounts for 25-40 percent of annual sales and profits. For 2011, that’s almost half a trillion dollars in revenue from spending on everything from tablets to toys. The industry accounts for nearly a quarter of U.S. jobs.
As the critical sales time begins, economists and merchants are wondering whether shoppers will stick to their lists or pick up some extras for themselves not only on Black Friday but over the rest of the season.
Or will shoppers do what they’ve been doing for several years now — jump on the deals and retreat until the season’s final days when they think the bargains will be better? And how much discounting will be necessary to draw them in?
Just as in the past few years, merchants have tried discounts on holiday merchandise as early as October.
And those 4 a.m. openings on Black Friday now are outdated. The new trend is midnight openings, with many stores like Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s embracing them as they try to be the first to pull in shoppers.
Given this year’s challenging environment, online jewelry site Blue Nile is making a bigger push in marketing, launching its first online sale on Black Friday to snag more female customers.
“It’s going to be competitive. I want to get our brand out there in the mix,” said CEO Vijay Talwar, who estimates that 30-35 percent of annual sales come from the November and December period.