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Columbia Mall Customers, Retailers Embrace Earlier Black Friday Shopping Hours

Midnight opening at The Mall in Columbia is a trend that will continue, according to a mall official.

Despite some national outcry from both consumers and store employees, earlier Black Friday shopping hours are here to stay, if the crowds at The Mall in Columbia are any indication.

"The crowds we had this year are a good indicator that the trend will continue," mall General Manager Katie Essing said. "The stores did well."

For the second year, mall officials gave retailers the opportunity to open at midnight, and 20 stores โ€” up from about a dozen last year โ€” took advantage of that chance, according to Essing.

Macy's joined the midnight brigade this year, which no doubt helped bring customers to the retail center, Essing said.

"We heard from all 20 stores that it was successful and worthwhile," Essing said of the mall's midnight opening.

Stores that joined Macy's for midnight shopping madness included Victoria's Secret, all Abercrombie stores, Starbucks and American Eagle, according to Essing.

Other stores staggered their opening times, with Sears and JCPenney opening at 4 a.m. and Lord and Taylor and H&M at 5 a.m. All mall stores were open by 6 a.m. instead of the regular 10 a.m., Essing said.

The mall doesn't have a people-counting system to give officials real data regarding customer traffic, but Essing said it was a "strong" showing.

Normally, the afternoon crowd thins out as overnight shoppers go home, but that wasn't the case this year.

"By mid-afternoon, it was the busiest I've ever seen this mall โ€” it was jammed," Essing said. "We got a whole new wave of shoppers that replaced the early-morning shoppers."

The mall takes on some expense, such as providing security and utilities for extended hours, but those are "expected things of Black Friday," Essing said.

The early crowds are a good indicator of a fruitful holiday shopping season, Essing said, with retailers hopeful the spending will continue.

Nationally, the news for retailers was just as good.

The National Retail Federation reports that the average holiday shopper spent $398.62 this weekend, up from $365.34 last year.

Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion, a 16.7 percent increase over the same time last year, according to the Washington Post.

Black Friday morphed into Small Business Saturday, an initiative created by American Express last year.

The campaign encourages shoppers to patronize locally owned shops that sell more unique items not available in big box stores.

Rachel Bailiff, owner of greenberries, an "eco-chic" consignment shop specializing in maternity and children's clothing and gear, said she saw some Small Business Saturday marketing efforts pay off.

Bailiff used the store's Facebook page and online newsletter to advertise specials being offered Saturday, which resulted in about a 15 percent bump in both traffic and sales, she said Monday.

"I specifically mentioned Small Business Saturday, and encouraged people to support their small, locally owned businesses, including greenberries," she said of her advertising efforts.

While the Howard County Chamber of Commerce did not have a specific push for Small Business Saturday, the organization's everyday mission is to support and encourage the county's business environment, according to communications manager Sandy Alexander.

The chamber focuses on the health of the local business community and offers a variety of services, workshops and networking opportunities for member businesses and their employees, Alexander said.

The chamber will host a breakfast meeting Dec. 16 at which members will hear about the economic outlook for the coming year, as well as learn the results of a local small business survey, according to Alexander.

Shoppers with energy and money remaining were encouraged to continue their shopping spree online Monday, which has come to be known as Cyber Monday.

MG42 November 29, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Who is "Essing"?
Marge Neal (Editor) November 29, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Ohai, Thanks for pointing that out. The editing process removed the first reference to mall General Manager Katie Essing; it's been fixed. — Marge


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