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How Target Tackles a ‘Black Friday’ That’s 10 Days Long

A dispatch from the retailer’s Jersey City store, where brick and mortar isn’t dead yet.

Shoppers in a Minneapolis Target on Thanksgiving Day 2017
Shoppers in a Minneapolis Target the evening before Black Friday.
Photo: Adam Hunger/AP Images for Target

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By 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, a line of waiting shoppers snaked around the outside of Target’s Jersey City, New Jersey, store, readying their strollers and shopping carts for the moment the uniformed team member would open the doors and usher them inside.

“You don’t have to run, just go right on in,” he cautioned, but this crowd hardly seemed like the teeming, fist-fighting mass that’s become a trope of local TV news on Black Friday. Many of the early-bird shoppers were families coming to stock up on toys and TVs, or groups of twentysomething friends making a beeline for the Apple section. It was busy, sure, but nothing the team hadn’t prepared for.

Like other Target stores across the country this past weekend, doors stayed open until midnight on Thursday and reopened at 6 a.m. on Friday morning. Preparations began weeks ago in order to make sure the busiest days of the season were fully staffed, said Samantha Sieka, the store’s team leader. Like most retailers, Target hires a fleet of additional associates and security during the holidays — more than 100,000 of them, in fact, over 1,800 stores — to make sure merchandise is stocked, lines don’t get out of control, and in-store pickup and ship-from-store orders are fulfilled. And in the lead-up to Black Friday, it’s all hands on deck.

“We do have a team that works overnight, so they’ll be refilling the stores for our guests in the morning,” said Sieka. “My schedule is going to be totally flexible, so we’ll see, but I can definitely tell you I’ll be here today and tomorrow.”

Overall, fewer stores opted to stay open on Thanksgiving Day this year, according to preliminary data from research firm ShopperTrak, and while online spending hit a record high of $5 billion on Black Friday, in-store foot traffic still fared well, falling less than one percent from 2016.

Gajanan, a customer from Jersey City, said he shopped the store last year as well, and this time it actually seemed more crowded. Like many of the carts lining the aisles, his was piled high with giant plush teddy bears, an in-store-only item that Target said was selling at a rate of about 600 per minute when doors opened on Thursday. He and three coworkers had brought their young kids, a friendly tradition of sorts, and planned to hit Macy’s and Kohl’s before dinner (Best Buy, which opened at 5 p.m., was first on the list).

Along with the teddy bears, a 55-inch Westinghouse television retailing for $249.99 was one of the biggest draws of the weekend, teetering precariously out of dozens of carts all around the store. One trick to luring shoppers away from their laptops, it seems, is selling products that are big enough and cheap enough that they bring their car and their whole family to haul it back home. Another customer, Rithu, was visiting from Baltimore and said she wanted to see the iPad 2 in person to decide between the gold and rose gold before committing to the purchase.

But while enticing shoppers into brick-and-mortar locations is certainly one of Target’s goals, it is also competing online with the likes of Walmart and Amazon, the latter of which said it sold more than 200,000 toys in just the first five hours of the day. For Cyber Monday, Target slashed prices by 15 percent sitewide, and through Saturday, it is hosting a series of “Cyber Week” sales, piggybacking on the burgeoning phenomenon that’s extended Black Friday by a full seven-plus days. Unfortunately, giant teddy bears aren’t among them — but then, there’s always next year.