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Shoppers crowd King of Prussia Mall for Black Friday deals

November 27, 2018

Source, The Reporter, Gary Puleo

Shoppers had barely digested their turkey and pumpkin pie when they started hitting the King of Prussia Mall late Thursday afternoon.

The next day they were back faithfully at 6 a.m. to kick off the Black Friday blitz, and Deloitte retail expert Bill Park was right there with them to confirm his predictions from Deloitte’s Annual Holiday Survey, which includes both a national and Philadelphia-specific snapshot of what shoppers’ buying habits will look like.

“I’m watching people shop, looking at the bags they’re carrying, talking to sales associates, finding out what the deals are. We did our surveys and we knew what to expect and now I’m observing,” Park said, seated in the connector that fused The Plaza and The Court into a single entity.

“People feel pretty good about their own finances and they’re ready to shop. Seventy percent said they were coming out to shop on Black Friday, and I think they’re here,” he said, glancing around.

The crowd was decidedly youthful, and stores such as Lulu Lemon that were catering to the collage-age demographic seemed to be drawing steady streams of shoppers, Park noted.

“Lulu Lemon had no signage about door busters, but early this morning they were about as crowded as any store,” he said. “I went in an asked them what they were doing, and they were having deals but the people knew about it before they got here. They didn’t need the signage to tell customers to come in and get a deal. They had done their homework on social media and knew what to look for. Every tag on the racks had a different color, and that was the deal. People had armloads of stuff they had bought.”

Microsoft opened early, Apple didn’t open until 8 a.m.,” Park added. “I was really surprised because their clientele was here and ready to shop. Electronics deals today are huge. You can get good deals in clothing too, 30 percent off, 50 percent off, but if you want to wait, you will probably get even better deals closer to the holiday. Those who come out today typically will spend more than the people who wait. At Urban Outfitters I was watching college kids going through the album racks buying Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ … I didn’t even know that they knew what a vinyl record is,” he said, laughing.

Business was also brisk at The Rock Shop, which specializes in vinyl records and CDs.

“A few years ago you couldn’t come to the mall and buy a CD,” Park said. “FYE was the last music shop here. But now that vinyl is back, you have The Rock Shop and you have vinyl records at Urban Outfitters.”

In some respects the intensity of Black Friday shopping has settled down compared to other years, Park said.

“You don’t have that one item that everybody has to have, like the Cabbage Patch Dolls, where they build up demand by having a very short supply. Hundreds of people would wait for the doors to open. You don’t see that anymore because if you really want that talked-about product you probably went online and bought it a couple of weeks ago.”

Still the Deloitte survey discovered that nearly half of Philadelphia shoppers still rely on Black Friday deals, though nearly half of them were undecided about which retailers they would grace with their hard-earned money.

“Our survey found that about 35 or 40 percent of people don’t know what they want to buy yet, and what I thought was interesting, at (clothing store) Altered State, they had this young girl there as a greeter talking to people about the deals and handing out these leaflets. I think that’s a good ploy for retailers. Half the people don’t know what they’re going to buy and there you have somebody greeting you at the door to help you and maybe convince you what you want to buy. Altered State is a very unique store, with nothing you’re going to find anywhere else.

While Altered State perfectly fit the primary demographic of the crowd, other stores did not, Park said.

“What’s not perfect for this crowd are the toy pop-up shops. They’ve taken over stores and loaded them up, but I’m wondering if King of Prussia Mall is really the best place for a pop-up toy shop. I think there are other malls that might be a better location. Number one, they’re not very attractive stores. They look like they just threw a bunch of stuff in there last week. But it will be interesting to see where people are buying toys this year. I think many of them have figured out that the best place is online or Walmart or Target. I just don’t think people will come to the mall for toys — not this mall anyway.”

Ironically, according to the Deloitte survey, gift cards were expected to be the number one gift, an item that could be bought at any number of locations outside of the mall.

“Gift cards have been number one for years, followed closely by clothing,” Park said.

Mass merchants were consistently the number one destination in many categories of gift shopping, Park said, noting that the high end stores at the mall tended to resist opening at the crack of dawn.

“Some of the real high end stores like Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s and Cartier did not open at 6 a.m.. They knew the millennials were probably not going to be shopping there. They knew they were probably headed for Forever 21 or Urban Outfitters or Pink.”

Joy McKenna , a former resident of Upper Merion now living in Delaware, had made her first visit back to the mall in more than a decade with her daughter, who had never been to the mall.

“I heard they had connected The Plaza and The Court but I wasn’t prepared for this,” she said. “Not too many of the stores I remember are here anymore and I’m just not sure where I’m going or what I’m looking for. When JC Penney and Sears were here it was easy to just go in and browse and you’d stumble on lots of gift ideas.”

Many Baby Boomers echo McKenna’s yearning for the convenience of department store shopping, according to Park’s findings, which revealed that 32 percent of shoppers planned to visit a department store for their Christmas shopping.

“Department stores have been falling over the last five or six years. The demographic tends to be Boomers and older, so for the younger ones it’s not even on their radar,” he said. “Department stores were the number one retailer back in the day and there’s still a market for them. If you go into Macy’s and Nordstrom you will find the traffic. But they’re trying to compete with specialty retailers, and that’s the challenge.”

Bookstores, electronics retailers, and toy stores —likely driven by the closure of Toys R Us —are the big losers over last year, as one of the big winners, online shopping, continued to shine. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed by Deloitte intend to shop online, Park pointed out.

“What we found is that people are very comfortable shopping both channels, Internet and brick and mortar,” he said. “In many cases I think people did their research before they got here today and they’re ready to buy in the store. It wasn’t that way even five years ago. Retailers had two systems then, one for their stores and one for Internet. But they are realizing how complementary they are. They can mesh together seamlessly, and those stores that get it right will be the winners.”

Scoring earth-shattering discounts today was not the impetus behind the Davies family Black Friday excursion. It was more about a tradition that had begun about 20 years ago, noted Mary Ellen Davies.

“My sisters and I get together, come to the mall and shop, and then have lunch, probably in the food court,” Mary Ellen said. “Or maybe we’ll treat ourselves to one of the fancy new restaurants … we’ll have to see how much money we have left,” she added with a laugh.

Whether it’s for door-busting Black Friday deals, casual browsing, or a good meal, King of Prussia Mall is a destination, Park, said.

“People will travel to come here. I live half an hour away and have two or three malls closer to me, but when I shop for the holidays, I come here. Especially when you don’t know what you want to buy, this is the place to come to window shop,” he noted. “If I can’t find it here I’m probably not going to find it.”