How suburban stores are wooing shoppers on Black Friday weekend
The soft embrace of a cashmere sweater. That perfectly fitting pair of leather gloves. That ridiculously discounted 75-inch LED smart HDTV available only to early Black Friday shoppers.
The sensory pleasures and satisfaction derived from touching, feeling and triumphing over fellow shoppers to find such steals are part of what makes holiday shopping fun.
Suburban businesses are trying to revive that joy of shopping and draw customers away from their computers into brick-and-mortar stores with some tested and new tricks up their sleeves.
At Cost Plus World Market in Kildeer and other suburban locations, shoppers can partake in a scavenger hunt for golden bells hidden throughout the store to win an instant $50 reward starting at 7 a.m. Friday and throughout the weekend. That promotion will last through Dec. 9, allowing customers a chance to win $10, $20, $25 or $50 gift cards.
"It gives customers a chance to have a little fun while they are shopping," said Mike Cuttone, general manager of the store off Rand Road. "We want to keep our customers coming in so they can touch, feel and see things ... those are the things that the online stores aren't able to offer."
The retail chain featuring an eclectic array of imported housewares, furniture, decor and specialty foods offers deals all day and throughout the weekend.
"The most encouraging thing is that we can keep people coming to the stores because they don't have to stress out about coming on one day," Cuttone said. "That's the biggest fight right now for the brick-and-mortar stores to stay in business ... it's giving customers more options to have things delivered directly to the store ... or buy online and have it picked up at the store."
Easing the Black Friday shopping experience is key to tempting customers to abandon their armchairs and brave the teeming masses scouring for deals, say store owners.
"It's completely insane already as it is," said Patricia Brannan, store manager at Kirkland's Home Decor off Rand Road in Arlington Heights, where sales leading up to Black Friday began three weeks earlier with weekly promotions.
Like many stores competing with the convenience of Walmart and Amazon, Kirkland's offers customers the option to buy online for in-store pickup within three hours -- a change from last year when customers buying online could have items shipped to the store taking up to 14 days for delivery. "Once you come in, it's all here ready for you," Brannan said.
Kirkland's Black Friday sale kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday until midnight and runs again from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday. A store manager will work the lines to ensure customers are "hanging in there" and reward them with gift baskets and giveaways on purchases of $50 or more. A Polaroid photo booth has been set up so shoppers can take "I survived Black Friday at Kirkland's" photos.
Smaller stores in Elgin's downtown are purposely avoiding competing with big box retailers and malls on Black Friday. Instead, they hope to lure shoppers with Small Business Saturday promotions -- a movement started by American Express.
Mary Pierce, owner of Soulful Sparrow boutique gift shop in Elgin, said participating in Small Business Saturday is far less stressful than the typical Black Friday madness.
"It's still busy, but it's just more fun," Pierce said. "It's not so competitive. We are doing a fashion show between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and we will also be holding a raffle for some prizes."
The event is promoted by the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin through social media, radio spots, coupon sheets and fliers distributed to businesses and residents.
"Last year, we had 36 participating businesses. This year, we have over 45," said Jennifer Fukala, the group's executive director. "That's like the day for them to be really the front-runner and get the visibility. We're not trying to go head-to-head with the big guys here. We are trying to do our own thing."