Taking a pass on Black Friday

Eighty-five percent of U.S. consumers stay home on Black Friday. The 15% who don't have inspired some ugly trends, including Black Thursday, which leads to workers missing Thanksgiving.

It's Black Friday, and that means hordes of bargain-craving shoppers will lay siege to retailers large and small.

Or not.

While there have been plenty of recent stories in the media attesting to the idea that Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the reality is that most of us prefer to take the holiday a good deal easier.

Nielsen, the market researcher that tends to do a pretty good job of spotting trends, says 85% of consumers won't go anywhere near a mall or a physical store on Black Friday.

And even though retailers are bending over backward for shoppers by opening earlier and earlier, the Nielsen numbers suggest that consumers are getting sick of the holiday overkill.

In each of the last two years, for example, 82% of consumers stayed home on Black Friday, according to Nielsen. In 2010, the percentage of folks sitting things out was 80%.

The trend seems clear: People aren't into mandatory shopping. And the more that retailers want us to throw around some money, the less interested we are in doing so.

"That's probably true," said Jack Plunkett, head of Plunkett Research, a Houston firm that tracks the retail industry. "But still, that means about 15% of people will go shopping, and that's clearly enough to get retailers to fight for their attention."

So we get all those so-called door busters with low-low-low prices for wide-screen TVs and tablet computers.

And the decision by many leading retailers to get a jump on Black Friday by opening on Thanksgiving, once known as a family holiday.

And perpetuation of the myth that people really will get a once-in-a-lifetime deal on Black Friday or thereabouts, so they'd be foolish not to brave the crowds.

In fact, while some of those limited stocks of door busters might indeed be priced to move, there's really no such thing anymore as a one-time-only sale.

Thanks to the Internet, every day is Black Friday.

And thanks to the Net, retailers are jostling for people's business pretty much all year round.

"There's almost no use in going to a store anymore," said Nikoleta Panteva, senior retail analyst with IBISWorld, a business research firm. "You can find highly competitive prices online throughout the year."

I'll attest to that. I like bargains as much as the next shopper, but I deeply dislike visiting malls and big-box stores. So I buy almost everything online.

Once you become savvy about the stuff you like and the brands you prefer, you can become pretty adept at routinely scoring discounts of as much as 50%, and often free shipping to boot, returns included.

In recent months, I've purchased a belt from a company in Vermont, a watch band from a company in Florida and a pair of shoes from a company in Washington. Not once did I pay the full retail price.

So why would anyone turn out for the gladiatorial blood sport that is Black Friday?

For many people, "shopping on Black Friday has become a holiday tradition," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with market researcher NPD Group.

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