The Thanksgiving turkey has turned into leftovers. The kids are off from school, parents are off from work, and all are looking forward — or not — to a long weekend of family togetherness.
It’s no wonder many East Valley shoppers will queue up in mall parking lots before dawn Friday, taking part in another annual ritual.
The holiday spending season officially kicks into gear on the day after Thanksgiving, dubbed Black Friday because on that day a typical U.S. retailers’ bottom line supposedly moves from red ink to black.
That may be more urban legend than reality, but many retailers ring up 25 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales in November and December, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
The National Retail Federation, another industry trade group, estimates that Americans will spend $453 billion on holiday shopping, excluding auto sales.
To snag a chunk of that spending, local stores will stage lots of promotions from cheap TVs to free DVDs in hopes of luring eager shoppers to their businesses this weekend.
Target even will phone sleepy heads Friday with a special wake-up message from country crooner Brad Paisley, Muppet Kermit the Frog or a loud motorcycle gang.
And the retailer will call to tuck them in Thanksgiving night with a bedtime story from grandma or "a guy who is so boring that even insomniacs will fall into a deep slumber." Register for the calls online at www.target.com/2daysale.
At Arizona Mills in Tempe, some stores, including the brand-new Disney outlet, will open as early as 4 a.m. Friday.
A balloon drop at 6 a.m. will net 500 early-bird shoppers prizes ranging from jewelry to Fiesta Bowl tickets to a $1,000 shopping spree.
Newspaper plastic wrappings Thursday will include scratchers that will net 2,500 subscribers gift certificates for Westcor malls, which include Scottsdale Fashion Square, Fiesta Mall and Superstition Springs Center in Mesa, Paradise Valley Mall and Chandler Fashion Center.
The ploys and promotions will continue throughout the weekend, and, for many retailers, throughout the season.
Analysts’ predictions about the holiday shopping season range from a lowly 2 percent increase over last year — barely keeping up with inflation — to a more hopeful 5 percent or even higher increase.
The International Council of Shopping Centers expects a middle-of-the-road 3 percent to 3.5 percent rise from last year. The National Retail Federation looks for a 5 percent boost.
"The good news is our local outlook is much better than the national outlook," said Traci Weber, Westcor vice president. Westcor shoppers said in a survey that they will spend an average $1,200 for the holidays, about $850 of it on gifts and the rest on parties, party duds and home decor, Weber said.
Westcor parent Macerich surveyed shoppers throughout the country and found they planned to spend a much lower $955 apiece for the holidays, Weber said.
All of the experts agreed there are some new trends emerging this year.
For one, it will be a hugely promotional season.
At one time, retailers counted on Black Friday to let them know how the season would pan out. If the post-Thanksgiving Day shoppers were in a spending mood, it would be a great season. If they were lookers not buyers, the outlook for the rest of the season would be dismal.
Not last year. Thanksgiving weekend was great. Retailers were happy. Then — nothing.
Consumers didn’t return en masse to malls until the eleventh-hour sales kicked in.
This year, look for sales and discounts throughout the season, Duker said.
Even savvy retail giant Wal-Mart admitted it read shoppers’ signals wrong last year, and this year it will keep deep discounting from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Not to be left in the dust, competitors Target, Kohl’s and JC Penney have promised to do likewise, Duker said.
But Disney Stores, which is about to embark on its first holiday season as a subsidiary of The Children’s Place, a value-priced kids clothing chain, is sticking with tradition, said John Fritz, Arizona district manager.
The stores will stage major Thanksgiving weekend promotions, but go back to regular pricing — still lower than when Disney owned the stores — afterward, Fritz said.
He’s not concerned about the Wal-Mart effect.
"I’m feeling confident about the season and our enhancedvalue message," he said.
But Fritz also said the Disney Stores will adjust that pricing strategy quickly if business falls off.
Another recent trend is that the shopping season has been stretching at both ends.
Gift cards, the present of choice for clueless givers and their pleased recipients, have been steadily growing in popularity for the last few years.
The National Retail Federation, based on shopper surveys, estimates that U.S. gift card sales will total $18.48 billion this holiday season, a 6.6 percent increase over 2004. The average consumer will spend $88.03 on gift cards, 15.6 percent of their holiday gift budget, the trade group said.
Because retailers can’t count money spent on gift cards until they are redeemed, gift card expenditures won’t show up until January or later, skewing year-over-year holiday sales comparisons.
If a significant chunk of Christmas spending is now slipping into January because of gift cards, a lot of the bargain hunting is happening before Thanksgiving.
"I heard from some customers that they have already completed their shopping," said Denise Hart, marketing director for Arizona Mills.
Consumers are shopping year-round for the holidays now, Duker said. And that, too, makes year-to-year comparisons difficult.
Other trends the experts say will affect this year’s shopping patterns are steady increases in online shopping and economic worries.
"At least we don’t have to worry about heating oil here," Fritz said. That is expected to be a factor nationwide and could help East Valley consumers if national retailers drop prices to keep transactions flowing.
Another fallout of the current financial worries, shoppers are expected to rely more on cash than credit this year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Anxious retailers can make optimistic or pessimistic predictions, downplay or rely on Friday to build or dash their hopes for the following weeks, but fickle consumers have all of the cards. And they will be out in force Friday to play them.