Stores getting prepared for shopping onslaught

Nathan Baker • Nov 27, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Employees at Tri-Cities locations of national retail chains are preparing for busy shopping weekends as stores compete in a retail arms race to assert their dominance over Black Friday’s consumer-driven holiday.

Retail leviathan Walmart takes the title again this year of having the loosest definition of Friday, with the official opening of its physical stores at 6 p.m. today, two hours before the start of last year’s doorbuster sales, and online deals going live that morning.

Electronics retailer Best Buy will likewise open at 6 p.m., with Target and Kohl’s following closely behind tonight at 8.

The National Retail Federation said earlier this year that its annual Thanksgiving weekend shopping survey predicted 140 million shoppers heading to stores between today and Sunday, a drop of about 7 million from last year.

Those figures include 33 million people who said they planned to shop on Thanksgiving and 97 million who plan to purchase items Friday.

To help keep order amid the rush of frantic customers, Target of Johnson City’s Executive Team Leader of Human Resources Susan Harp said the store has ordered police barriers and all employees have undergone conflict resolution training and been drilled on the store’s crowd management plan.

“Safety for our team members and our customers is our No. 1 priority,” Harp said Wednesday afternoon from the north Johnson City store. “We want to prevent things from going wrong rather than going through and having to fix things that have already gone wrong.”

To manage the personnel demands of 27 straight hours of operation, she said the store is treating the marathon sales event as two separate workdays, with employees working Thursday into Friday being relieved by a second shift, then returning Friday evening after a rest.

Harp said the parent company is concerned with making sure employees get a chance to spend time with their families on Thanksgiving, and try to balance the importance of family with the drive to compete for holiday shopping business.

“Target does have some blackout times for team members,” Harp said. “No one comes in any earlier than an hour before we open on Thursday, so we’re staying a little later on Wednesday to make sure everything’s ready.”

Harp has also coordinated food catered by local restaurants to keep employees well-fed and boost morale on the store’s most trying days.

Like Target, electronics store h.h. gregg plans to open at 8 p.m., and work employees in shifts through the holiday rush.

General Manager Patrick Mahoney said workers were buttoning up last-minute preparations Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re treating it like it’s two different days, so it’s going to be different than in years’ past,” he said. “We’re not going to just have one long shift, so it should be a little easier on our staff.”

Mahoney said the gradual encroachment of Black Friday into Thanksgiving is being driven by retailers trying to up the ante each year and by customer demands.

“You have to respond to what the customer is expecting,” he said. “I’m just like anybody, I have a family, but they understand that it’s just the nature of the beast. You have to do what the competition is doing to keep up.”

Both Harp and Mahoney said the sales outlook this holiday shopping season is more favorable than last year’s for their stores.

“We’ve actually been beating expectations these last few weeks in terms of sales,” Harp said. “So it should be a good year for us.”

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