December 12, 2019

The Shrewd Shopper Carries a Smartphone

Retailers are trying to lure shoppers away from the Internet, where they have increasingly been shopping to avoid Black Friday madness, and back to the stores. The bait is technological tools that will make shopping on the busiest day of the year a little more sane — and give shoppers an edge over their competition.

Those with smartphones in hand will get better planning tools, prices and parking spots. Walmart has a map that shows shoppers exactly where the top Black Friday specials can be found. A Mall of America Twitter feed gives advice on traffic and gifts, and the Macy’s app sends special deals for every five minutes a shopper stays in a store.

“The crazy mad rush to camp out and the crazy mad rush to hit the doorbusters have really made people think, ‘I’m just going to stay home on Black Friday,’ ” said Carey Rossi, editor in chief of, a review site. “This is going to invite some people back and say, ‘You know what? It doesn’t have to be that crazy.’ ”

Part of the retailers’ strategy is to slap back at online stores like, which last year used apps to pick off shoppers as they browsed in physical stores. But the stores are also recognizing that shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving need not require an overnight wait in line, a helmet and elbow pads. A smartphone gives shoppers enough of an edge.

“This takes away that frantic Black Friday anxiety,” said Lawrence Fong, co-founder of BuyVia, an app that sends people price alerts and promotions. “While there’s a sport to it, life’s a little too short.”

Denise Fouts, 45, who works repairing fire and water damage in Chandler, Ariz., was already using apps, including Shopkick, Target’s app and one called Black Friday, before Thanksgiving to prepare for Black Friday. “There still are going to be the crowds, but at least I already know ahead of time what I’m going specifically for,” Ms. Fouts said.

Last week, Macy’s released an update to its app with about 300 Black Friday specials and their location. In the Herald Square store, for instance, the $49.99 cashmere sweater specials will be in the Broadway side of the fifth-floor women’s department.

“With the speed that people are shopping with on Black Friday, they need to be really efficient about how they’re spending their time,” said Jennifer Kasper, group vice president for digital media at Macy’s.

When shoppers keep the app open, Macy’s will start sending special deals to the phone every five minutes. The deals are not advertised elsewhere.

Walmart has had an app for several years, but recently introduced an in-store mode, which shows things like the current circular or food tastings when a shopper is near a certain location. Twelve percent of Walmart’s mobile revenue now comes from when a person is inside a store.

For Black Friday, the app will have a map of each store, with the precise location of the top sale items — so planners can determine the best way to run. “The blitz items are not where you think they would be, because for traffic reasons, maybe the hot game console is in the lawn and garden center,” said Gibu Thomas, senior vice president for mobile and digital for Walmart Global eCommerce.

Target is also testing a way-finding feature on its app at stores that include some in Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles. If a shopper types in an item, the app will give its location.

Other app makers are betting that shoppers want apps that pull in information from many stores.

RedLaser, an eBay app, lets shoppers use their phones to compare prices and recently started using location data to give shoppers personalized promotions when they walk into stores, including items not on store shelves at Best Buy, for instance. RetailMeNot, which offers e-commerce coupons, now has offline coupons that will pop up on users’ cellphones when they step near 500 malls on Black Friday.

“Consumers are not going to download 40 different apps for 40 different stores,” said Cyriac Roeding, co-founder of Shopkick, a location-based app that gives shoppers points, redeemable for perks, when they walk into stores or scan certain items.

For Black Friday, Shopkick is publishing what it calls a little black book with the top doorbusters. Shoppers will earn extra points and rewards for shopping on Black Friday.

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