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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Researcher: Consumer Confidence Up Heading into Holiday Shopping Season

By Betsy Hnath

It's November, that special time of year for food, family, football — and finding the best shopping deals of the year.

What was once one major day of shopping — Black Friday — has now stretched from Thanksgiving Day (or before) through Cyber Monday. And even those lines are beginning to blur as retailers extend discount days every year.

Businesses count on the entire Thanksgiving weekend to boost annual sales figures; consumers rely on the hefty discounts to help check off holiday wish lists.

According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 164 million U.S. consumers are expected to start their holiday shopping this Thanksgiving and will spend an average of $967, up 4 percent from last year.

Mahesh Gopinath, an Old Dominion University associate professor of marketing, sees confidence in the economy as one reason for continued spending, even though individual salaries may not have changed.

"There is some progress in the economy, there is some job growth, but there is also concern about stagnant wages," Gopinath said. "The Gross Domestic Product is increasing, but the per-person level is not for a lot of people. Still, there is a general feeling of well-being so people are more likely to spend."

Spending isn't the only metric expected to increase: 2017 is predicted to be the first year in which online purchases will surpass those made in person.

"One unique thing about this season is that it will be the first year online will be higher than any other way of spending — 56 percent," Gopinath said. "People like to shop in the comfort of their home, in their pajamas. It takes much more effort, and gas, to drive to the mall."

According to Forbes, in 2016, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales totaled $12.8 billion, a 15.2 percent bump from the same period in 2015. Cyber Monday alone saw $3.45 billion in sales, equaling the largest day ever in U.S. e-commerce history.

"The term 'Cyber Monday' was coined in 2005. That year had $600 million in sales. I wouldn't be surprised to see $4 billion this year," Gopinath said.

As the habits of consumers have evolved, so, too, has technology. Mobile platforms have become a more popular and standardized way to shop.

Last year, almost 40 percent of sales, on what used to be a weekend trafficked through brick-and-mortar stores, occurred on a mobile device.

Sandwiched between Black Friday — named because businesses went 'in the black' financially at that time each year — and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday.

Developed by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday has emerged as a day dedicated to independent retailers across the country.

Old Dominion University's own student retail store, THE Monarch Way, will be open Nov. 25 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Drones and toys controlled by cellphone apps are some of the must-haves this holiday season.

What's the most popular item to ask for and to give?

"Gift cards," Gopinath said. "For eleven years in a row."

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