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Weeks of Black Friday Sales? It’s Not Your Imagination

UMD Retail Expert Forecasts Flurry of Early Holiday Shopping

By Sala Levin ’10

shoppers crowd a mall's walkways

Holiday shoppers who want to score deals (or perhaps find what they're looking for at all) need to be ready mix it up early with fellow consumers at the malls and online, because inventory may be low, a UMD marketing researcher warns.

Photo by iStock

It’s Nov. 20—do you know where your kids’ (or for that matter, your demanding adults’) holiday wish lists are?

If not, get on it. Those ebikes, Dior lip oils and Nike Blazer Low ’77s aren’t getting any cheaper, according to Jie Zhang, Dean's Professor of Marketing and Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management in the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

“Shoppers looking for the best deals should start early,” she said, to take advantage of the biggest selection and lowest prices in a season when jittery retailers aren’t necessarily decking the malls with lavish inventory. “Retailers know that procrastinators should pay higher prices.”

As we enter retail’s busiest season, Maryland Today asked Zhang to share some insights about the state of holiday shopping and spending.

Inflation is driving lower expectations from retailers.

“The pressure of inflation and fear of recession has made many retailers cautious about their forecast for this holiday shopping season,” said Zhang. While the National Retail Federation predicts a growth of 3-4% over the 2022 season, she said that translates to lower spending than in 2022 once the impact of inflation is taken into account.

Black Friday? More like Black Friday … and the Friday before … and the one before that.

Gone are the days when scoring a Black Friday deal meant dragging your stuffing-filled self out of bed at 4 a.m. to line up for a discounted big-screen TV. Retailers are now offering “Black Friday” sales weeks ahead of Thanksgiving. “They’re really trying to offer sales earlier and earlier in order to beat out their competition and stay ahead of the curve,” said Zhang, resulting in a “vicious cycle” that keeps expanding Black Friday every year.

Shortages are a real threat.

Concerned about low turnout, some retailers have taken proactive measures to protect their profits, including ordering less inventory. (Target has employed this strategy all year long, said Zhang.) Coupled with savvy shoppers who know that the best time to buy is early in the season, this means that customers heading out to the mall on Dec. 23 might not be able to score those Apple Watches or cropped hoodies.

Products to pamper yourself are hot.

Residual pandemic stress and economic worries mean that “many people are gravitating toward products for wellness and self-care,” said Zhang. At-home spa products, accupressure massagers, weighted blankets, body care and aromatherapy products are high on many people’s lists for gifts to give others and themselves.

If it’s not urgent, wait until January.

Your kids may not forgive Santa Claus if he delays deliveries until January, but if your goal is to save the most money, shop after the holiday hubbub has died down. “The deepest discounts usually happen in January, after holiday shopping season, because retailers need to clear the surplus inventory,” said Zhang. “Of course, the hot items usually would be snatched up by then.”



Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.