WORCESTER — While the days of hordes of shoppers camping outside stores the morning after Thanksgiving may be a thing of the past, Black Friday is still alive.
However, it is a bit more laid-back now.
Whitco Sales in Spencer
Bill White, owner of Whitco Sales, 140 Main St. in Spencer, said Black Friday is a top sale day for Whitco, surpassed only by Massachusetts’ sales tax holiday in August, which exempts retail items of up to $2,500 from being taxed.
“It’s always big for us,” White said of Black Friday. “Black Friday weekend is always a very good sales time, but in comparison to the sales tax holiday, that’s now the best time of year for sales. It dwarfs maybe three times what the Black Friday business is, for us.”
A trend can be seen among retailers starting Black Friday sales earlier in November or running through the entire month. At Whitco, promotions for appliances, toys, bikes and other electronics spread out across the month.
However, White said he thinks this lessens the importance of Black Friday, causing the formerly door-busting holiday to dwindle in importance over the years as customers no longer need to camp out in front of stores to get the best deals.
Sweet Home Furniture and Rotmans in Worcester
Like Whitco, Sweet Home Furniture and Rotmans at 572 and 725 Southbridge St., respectively, in Worcester, also started sales early.
Sweet Home Furniture owner Chris Machado said November is his store’s busiest month due to starting promotions at the beginning of November and running through Black Friday.
“I think people are waiting for shopping and I think it’ll be a good day,” Machado said.
Rotmans marketing director Heidi Richardson said the furniture store started its Black Friday sale almost two weeks early, and though sales remain strong, she said starting sales leading up to Black Friday changes the nature of the holiday.
“It’s definitely still one of our two or three biggest days of the year, but what’s changed Black Friday most is even 10 years ago we were much truer to it being Black Friday and the weekend, and now everyone starts those sales so much earlier,” she said. “It tends to water down the excitement a bit, but for us that weekend is still top three for the year.”
Despite opening an hour earlier on Black Friday, both Whitco and Rotmans see more activity throughout the week leading up to the event without customers lining up outside on Friday, Richardson and White said.
In past years, Rotmans would open at 8 a.m. on the holiday, but now it opens only an hour before its usual opening time to let in shoppers at 9 a.m., Richardson said.
“It’s what consumers want now,” she said.
Whitco, Rotmans and Sweet Home have all been affected by supply-chain disruptions the U.S. has been experiencing this fall.
“Even goods that are made in the U.S., they still rely on supply pieces that come from overseas,” Richardson said. “Even the domestic-made products are still behind and things are really delayed. We’ve been super fortunate this year to be able to keep constant stock coming in and out. It’s a little different than the old days but we’re always in a position to have stock, which is great.”
White said Whitco still has a good amount of inventory in stock despite supply-chain issues, but being unable to order more merchandise is an inconvenience.
“We have a huge warehouse where we stock a lot of inventory,” he said. “Some stuff you have to wait up to six, seven months for, but we have a good supply of stuff to sell. We’re still chugging along.”
Added White: “We used to have maybe a thousand different appliance specials on Black Friday, but now it’s down to about 150 because there’s a certain range of factors and they can’t produce enough stuff. Between huge demand and supply-chain backups, and trucking backups, it’s not as much as it used to be but this is the new world we’re living in now.”
Like Whitco, Machado said Sweet Home also has a strong inventory of furniture customers want, though custom pieces may be hard to come by.
“We have a lot of inventory so a lot of items are ready to deliver,” he said. “So for customers that can’t wait for special order, we do have lots of bedroom sets, living room sets and dining sets in stock, ready for delivery.”
With supply-chain delays, products that usually arrive in 12 to 16 weeks now take 20 to 24 weeks, Richardson said, but she noticed customers are willing to wait patiently for custom pieces or Amish-made furniture.
Some businesses forgo Black Friday traditions altogether.
At Sharfmans, a Worcester jewelry store on 19 Glennie St., owner Richard Johnson said he isn’t planning anything special for Black Friday, partially due to hesitancy over bringing crowds of people into the store.
“Black Friday is not a big day for us as a jewelry store,” he said. “We’ll get traffic but most of our big business is done closer to Christmas Day.”
Jewelry stores like Sharfmans also get less online business, as customers prefer to look at pieces in person, Johnson said.
Online shopping might have had an impact on the dwindling Black Friday excitement over the past decade, as consumers favored the convenience of shopping from home, but as in-person activity returns to pre-pandemic conditions, consumers are shown to be flocking back to stores.
According to U.S. Department of Commerce figures released in August, offline sales have grown at a record rate of more than 20% year over year in 2021 following the pandemic, as allowing customers to return to stores has heightened the number of in-person shoppers.
White said Whitco sells some items online, but significantly less than in-person sales.
“Our business is more touchy-feely. We like seeing people face to face,” he said.