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Economists eye weekend sales

December 05, 2011 12:00AM

Business owners, investors and economists will be watching anxiously this weekend for important signals from shoppers about the slowly improving national economy. Black Friday has become retail’s biggest day of the year and is seen by many as a harbinger for a season in which many retailers earn more than half of their annual revenue.

“I don’t think the economy can afford a bad Black Friday or Cyber Monday,” said Pittsburg State University Economics Instructor Michael McKinnis.

McKinnis said many experts are predicting a slight increase in consumer spending.

“It will be a big spending weekend, although no one really knows how much or whether it will be better than last year,” McKinnis said. “I’m reading some information that estimates a 2 to 3 percent increase.”

In an effort to extend the shopping season even longer, some retailers have pushed their Black Friday sales into Thursday. The tactic has angered some. Ultimately, McKinnis said, the wisdom of launching the Christmas shopping season before the Thanksgiving turkey becomes a casserole will be determined by shoppers.

“There has been some blowback from consumers and employees because some stores are choosing to open on Thanksgiving,” said McKinnis, citing petitions circulating on social media and other news stories criticizing stores for opening on a holiday. “Shopping periods are starting earlier because retailers are seeing a benefit, but socially they’re insulting our sensitivities about when the holidays should start. Ultimately, the money is going to rule.”

Whether it’s late on Thursday or in the wee hours of Friday, the Black Friday shopping phenomenon is something McKinnis said is hard to explain.

“The whole event is taking advantage of some competitive, visceral part of our nature,” he said. “It’s not even about getting in and buying something. There’s an emotional component to it. It’s about winning a contest.”

For those who prefer the comfort of their family rooms over crowded malls and big-box stores in the middle of the night, online shopping is becoming an increasingly popular option, McKinnis said.

“The online retailers are trying to replicate the experience of brick and mortar,” McKinnis said. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds: you get your deal, you’re the first to buy something, but you don’t have to leave your home.”

McKinnis counts himself among the latter.

“I hide in my basement with my short-wave radio,” he joked. “I see friends and family on Facebook plotting their logistics and caffeine intake and it makes me laugh.

©2011 Pittsburg State University