Business
4:45 am
Thu November 28, 2013

Retailers Hope 'Gray Thursday' Boosts Bottom Line

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 2:06 am

You are not imagining it, the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier. Black Friday has been around for decades — that's the point where retailers hope to begin to make a profit.

Shoppers looking to get a jump on deals can shop on Gray Thursday – think Black Friday intruding into Thanksgiving Day.

This Turkey Day, many national chains will open their doors early in an effort to boost sales. K-Mart opened at 6 a.m.

To find out more about the early shopping frenzy, Morning Edition host David Greene, talks to Mark Ellwood, author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.

"I am fascinated to see the creep," says Ellwood, who admits he will be sitting out this first Gray Thursday.

He says it was just two years ago when stores were opening at 12:01 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, and it was "scandalous."

Is it worth leaving your turkey in the oven to go shopping?

"Much like outlet malls," Elwood says, "Black Friday isn't full of true bargains."

He says it's best to check with a clerk to see when the merchandise arrived. If it's been around for a while, there's a chance you're saving because it is being marked down over time. But if the items just arrived, they could be inexpensive but not a real bargain.

Predictions for next year?

"There really is a movement to try and protect Thanksgiving and not transform it into Gray Thursday, but I guarantee, next year, we'll see someone opening at 12:01 a.m. on Thanksgiving," Ellwood says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, if you're looking for a deal on electronics or clothing, or anything for that matter, I welcome you to Gray Thursday. That would be Black Friday intruding into the day before.

This Thanksgiving, many national chains are opening the doors at 6 PM, some at 8 PM, all in an effort to boost their sales. And to find out more about why the shopping frenzy is starting earlier and earlier every year, we're joined by Mark Ellwood, the author of "Bargain Fever."

Mark, good morning.

MARK ELLWOOD: Good morning. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well, thank you. Ready for shopping.

ELLWOOD: I've got my sneakers on, ready to hit the mall.

GREENE: Oh, good. I'm glad. Well, I mean are you actually going to be hitting it tonight, for Gray Thursday?

(LAUGHTER)

ELLWOOD: I spent a lot of time researching the time around Black Friday. I think tonight I'm going to watch from my armchair. I think I'm taking a year off, but I am fascinated to see the creep. Because two years ago, at 12:01, AM, on Black Friday, the stores for the first time were throwing open their doors, and it was extraordinary and scandalous. I can't believe two years later, K-Mart is opening at 6 AM on Thanksgiving Day proper.

GREENE: Opened this morning, six in the morning, getting a full day earlier. That's incredible.

ELLWOOD: And online, you're looking at online creeps, so that Cyber Monday is no longer the standard on online deal day. There will be deals online today, which is extraordinary. You can put your turkey in, make yourself a coffee and then go shopping.

GREENE: What's in it for people who decide to do that? Is it worth leaving your turkey in the oven and going off and shopping today?

ELLWOOD: Well, here's the thing: we are genetically preprogrammed to respond to bargains, so we can't really help it. There is a chemical in our brains that when we see a deal, it makes us itch.

GREENE: We run.

ELLWOOD: It's a chemical called dopamine. But I call it Buy-agra(ph) - because it turbocharges how we spend.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: And it's Buy-agra. I'm getting it. We're buying things. OK.

ELLWOOD: Yeah. Buy-agra.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

ELLWOOD: Because dopamine is a very well-known chemical. I think people think of it as feel-good juice, but it's not feel-good juice, it's bonus juice. It's when you go to your local neighborhood restaurant and the owner sends you a slice of chocolate cake to say Happy Birthday. That surprise, that more than you expect, those you bring with dopamine. And it's exactly the same thing that happens when you see a sale sign. You're getting more for less and your brain says go, go, go.

GREENE: OK. So let's say I decide that I'm going to go to one of these stores tonight, and I see some sign that says 50 percent off for Gray Thursday, and the dopamine kicks in, and I'm getting all excited about this. Am I really getting a bargain?

ELLWOOD: It depends. The dirty secret of a lot of retailers is that, much like outlet malls, Black Friday isn't always full of true bargains. Between 70 and 80 percent of the products sold at an outlet mall is specially made for the outlet mall. So it's cheap...

GREENE: Not that you're imagining the cheaper goods made by these places, they're bringing them to their outlets. You're just getting different stuff.

ELLWOOD: You're getting different stuff made by the brand because they want you to come to the outlet. So it can be cute and it's cheap, but I don't know if it's a barking; it wasn't reduced. The same thing is happening on Black Friday.

GREENE: Well, are there any secrets to know when you're actually getting a deal on Gray Thursday or Black Friday that you couldn't get at another time?

ELLWOOD: The best secret is just ask the sales assistant, because they know their stock. And I would always say, hey, was this here on Wednesday or did you unpack it this morning? And that can give you a sense of whether it's cheap or it's a real bargain, and there is a difference.

GREENE: So the sales associate tells you that something arrived just today, you're probably not getting a deal. But if it's been sitting there for a while, maybe they've market down.

ELLWOOD: Exactly. It's really that simple.

GREENE: What's in it for stores to open up even earlier than before?

ELLWOOD: The problem is that for the first time in history, there are too many shops and not enough shoppers. Because ever since the early 1980s, brick-and-mortar retail space in America has increased by about four percent every single year, plus all the digital. The American population has increased by about one percent every year - just under, actually. So we have this great schism in the supply demand chain. And what's in it for the stores who are opened today on Gray Thursday is that they want to get a jump, they want to get ahead, because it is more brutal than ever.

GREENE: And there's some extra desperation this year with Thanksgiving falling so late, right? I mean the holiday shopping season this, kind of, squeezed.

ELLWOOD: It's tighter than ever, which is one of the reasons I think that when people took the decision to open on Gray Thursday, they were especially desperate. There really is a movement to try and protect Thanksgiving and not transform it into Gray Thursday, but I guarantee next year, we'll see someone opening a 12:01 on Thanksgiving.

GREENE: Well, Mark Ellwood, I'll say Happy Thanksgiving, but it sounds like you might be standing outside a store doing some research tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

ELLWOOD: Yeah. I'll be there with my pad and pen. But I'll have my turkey too.

GREENE: OK. Good. Mark Ellwood recently wrote the book, "Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World." Thanks so much for talking to us.

ELLWOOD: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.