It’s not Black Friday yet, but stores already are preparing for an influx of customers after economic forecasters predict an increase in retail sales this holiday season.
A study conducted by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center for the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants shows an expected 4.2 percent increase in retail sales November and December this year as compared to the same time frame last year.
Researchers say consumer confidence is up while debt is down. The Ohio unemployment rate also has fallen.
The biggest portion of sales will be made in the Columbus metro area, according to the study, which is projected to see a 7.5 percent increase in sales this holiday season. The Cleveland area is expected to see a 3.6 percent increase.
To prepare, some stores, like Kmart on Leavitt Road in Lorain, will try to get a jump on Black Friday by opening today.
Although Kmart is open 24 hours a day, its sales on Thanksgiving run 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. today. On Friday, sales at the store run 5 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Lorain store manager Dan Monahan said there are too many customers on Thanksgiving for the store to close. For many, it’s a type of Thanksgiving tradition, and the hours give customers more options.
“It’s not for everybody, but some people are working every other day of the week, and sometimes, it’s the only time they can shop,” he said. “Some prefer Thanksgiving … we’re doing it because that’s what the customer has asked for.”
Monahan expects the biggest traffic of customers to be at 8 p.m. today.
Customers will be offered free layaway on those days with no service fee in-store or online. They can take advantage of “buy one, get one free” on all footwear, and 50 percent off assorted Christmas trees and holiday decor.
The big items this year will be toys and electronics, as has been the trend in previous years, Monahan said.
Customers can save $250 on an RCA 42-inch plasma HDTV, which will sell for $199.99. The original price of the television is $449.99.
Sales on toys — 50 percent off a variety of them — and $100 off an Xbox 360 4 GB Kinect bundle will be offered.
“Everything just seems to get cheaper and cheaper,” Monahan said.
The process for preparing for Black Friday can be time-consuming for employees who work in retail.
Kmart employees have been setting up signs and clearing spaces for new items for three weeks. Employees at JCPenney in the Midway Mall just finished setting up Wednesday but preparing has been weeks in the making.
JCPenney employees get a day of relief from the sales as the store is not open today. The store will open at
6 a.m. Friday.
Elyria store manager Julie Riley said the decision was made by JCPenney’s CEO, who she said realizes the importance of the holidays.
“Our CEO has said numerous times that it’s important that employees get to celebrate Thanksgiving and spend time with their families,” she said.
Riley said the opening time will be a “learning experience” for employees, but she doesn’t believe it will dampen sales.
“I think we’ll have a good turnout. We’re giving them a little time to sleep and rest from shopping all night, and they’ll be back in the morning to shop with us,” she said.
Customers Friday will receive a free button at the cash register, which makes them eligible for prizes. Each button contains a code that can be entered online, according to JCPenney’s website.
Riley said big items this year include sales on boots, which range in price from $12 to $40. Junior’s sweaters can also be purchased at a sales price of $10, and jewelry and small appliances will be on sale as well.
Riley said Black Friday can be hectic, but that doesn’t stop many from braving the crowds.
“I’ve always said if I didn’t work in retail, I don’t think I would come out on Black Friday,” she said, laughing.
She said it’s a “fun day,” however, and she believes it’s the excitement of the day that brings customers out.
Black Friday’s peak shopping time is at 2 p.m., according to data collected from Foursquare, a location-based social networking website where users can “check-in” to different areas and businesses.
Foursquare collected data from these check-ins to determine that the best time to shop to beat the lines is at 6 a.m. The top three retailers with the most check-ins were Target, Walmart and Best Buy.
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or email@example.com.