There are some things that remain true one Black Friday after another: It's the official start to the holiday shopping season, the deals aren't always all they're cracked up to be and it's no longer a one-day event – it begins as early as September and stretches through the weekend after Thanksgiving.
But depending on what retailers are up to, what the economy is like and how consumers are feeling, things can change a lot from one year to the next.
If you're going out this year, here's what you might expect:
1. Black Friday is fun again. In years past, shoppers I talked to said they felt like they had to shop on Black Friday. They had to wake up at 4 a.m. to snag deals so they could stay within their budgets. People talked about feeling cash strapped and said it was their duty to find bargains. Stung by the market crash and fearful amid the Great Recession, shoppers just didn't feel great about the economy and had a lot of anxiety about their own personal financial situations.
This year, unemployment is down and consumer confidence is up. That means the people in stores will more likely be there to have fun – just like the old days. They will very likely be shopping on a whim; entering stores without lists, grabbing things that strike their fancy, and shopping for themselves as much as they shop for the people on their Christmas lists. They may not be able to afford all that shopping (especially if they're buying on credit), and they may not be getting the bargains they think they're getting, but they will probably be having more fun doing it than they have been for the past 10 years or so.
2. Metered parking will be free in the City of Buffalo. Park at any parking meter in the city without paying and have no fear of a ticket. The city will not be ticketing on Black Friday. Consider shopping in any of Buffalo's awesome districts, including Elmwood Avenue, Hertel Avenue, Allentown, Downtown, the Market Arcade and Broadway. There's also the Queen City Pop-Up at the Market Arcade, 617 Main St., where you can find gorgeous, hand-sewn bow ties by 12-year-old entrepreneur Sheldon Gibbs at Classic Knot, as well as other gifts from local startups Lily & Grey, Urban Soul Closet and Things 'n Time.
3. Stores may be short staffed. Unemployment is down. That means there are fewer workers available to fill those temporary jobs retailers post each year to help with the holiday rush. Retailers are competing with everyone else for workers – many companies that won't ask them to work on Thanksgiving or wake up at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. For that reason, there may be fewer employees to answer questions, check prices or cash you out. Instead of adding seasonal workers this year, Walmart has tapped its permanent workforce, offering them more hours. That gives them a captive labor pool and, luckily for you, they're less likely to call in sick (or quit) on Thanksgiving. Students and retirees often jump at seasonal holiday jobs, but other companies have been actively poaching those workers.
4. Stores will still be bustling. Everyone is shopping on the web, right? So stores will be a ghost town while everyone shops from their couches? Not even close. Sure, online sales increased a record-setting 16.9 percent last year, according to Adobe Digital Insights, but that doesn't mean people aren't shopping in stores, too. Consumers said they'll spend an average of 4.1 percent more this year, according to the National Retail Federation, and there's plenty of that money to go around. While some people do plan to shop online only, most people still shop in stores for all, most or at least some of their Christmas gifts. And while foot traffic has been declining in brick-and-mortar stores, the decline slowed drastically last year.
5. Shoppers plan to buy gift cards, toys and clothes for others; booze, food and clothes for themselves. The most popular gifts people will be buying for others this year will be gift cards (54 percent), clothing (53 percent), toys (46 percent), books (43 percent) and food or liquor (39 percent), according to a survey by data firm Deloitte. When it comes to self gifting, however, consumers will pick up food and liquor (42 percent), clothing (40 percent), shoes (26 percent), books (22 percent) and cosmetics, perfume, health and beauty aids (21 percent).