Will this be a bounce-back holiday season in Whatcom County?

Jeff Endersby, left, and Gary Holcomb stack a display of Cuisinarts at Kohl’s at Bellis Fair in Bellingham, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The store will be open 36 hours straight starting Thursday at 6 p.m.
Jeff Endersby, left, and Gary Holcomb stack a display of Cuisinarts at Kohl’s at Bellis Fair in Bellingham, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. The store will be open 36 hours straight starting Thursday at 6 p.m. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

While the term Black Friday sale is now being used loosely for just about any day in November, retailers are still making a big deal out of Thanksgiving and the day after to promote deals.

The main event kicks off on Thursday, with several stores opening during the 5-6 p.m. hours. Several stores are sticking with the traditional early-morning Friday opening, while some stores, like REI, are forgoing the tradition altogether and encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors instead.

Perhaps the biggest shift in the past year is the move toward online shopping, said Dev Shapiro, of Gottadeal.com, which keeps track of retail sales, including Black Friday ads. He said more people are comfortable getting the shopping done online than ever before.

“It’s turned into much more of an online event,” said Shapiro, noting that Amazon is offering its Black Friday deals throughout November.

Plenty of people still enjoy visiting the stores, and this is expected to be a busy season in the U.S. The National Retail Federation predicts that sales during the holidays will rise 3.6 percent, significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. With retailers sensing a busy year, the sales should be competitive this season, attracting people into Whatcom County stores, said Guy Occhiogrosso, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce.

That could include Canadian cross-border shoppers, despite the weak Canadian dollar. The loonie is hovering around 74 cents compared the U.S. dollar, right about where it was a year ago.

Canadian cross-border shopping is down compared to a few years ago, but Occhiogrosso said they are finding some Canadians come down for other reasons, such as the Whatcom County shopping experience and brand loyalty.

Overall he’s optimistic that holiday sales will go well for Whatcom County retailers this season. With a stronger U.S. economy, he’s expecting stronger sales.

“I’m optimistic, but it is an interesting time,” Occhiogrosso said, adding it is unclear what the outcome of the presidential election will have on shoppers.

Local retailers could use a bit of a boost after a sluggish 2015 holiday shopping season. Sales at Whatcom County stores in the fourth quarter of 2015 were down 5.2 percent compared to a year earlier, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.

What’s hot this year

Televisions are usually a popular item on Black Friday lists, and Shapiro said the 4K curved sets are expected to do well this year. Sales for those televisions were were good last year and it will have more staying power than 3D televisions, which suffered when movie producers went away from that format, he said.

Dashcams were popular last year as people wanted to record driving incidents, but that’s expected to be down a bit this year as people turn to more home automation and security gadgets, Shapiro said. Some of the more popular items include doorbell video surveillance systems, which allows a homeowner to answer a door through motion detection from anywhere with the use of a smartphone. There’s plenty of new packages to prevent vandalism and home break-ins that are easy to install, he said.

In the kitchen, high-end appliances, pots and pans continue to be popular, with retailers offering big discounts in order to stay competitive. Big markdowns are also expected for clothing as well, as stores compete for customers that tend to buy clothes at stores rather than online.

Online retailers will continue to have “Black Friday” sales throughout the holiday season. Shapiro said the next concern after prices is making sure it arrives on time. His rule of thumb is to get orders in by Dec. 15, maybe even earlier if the U.S. is going through major weather events.

“A big winter storm in the middle of the country can delay shipping for customers in other parts” of the U.S., Shapiro said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

Holiday shopping

A look at the scheduled openings of some Whatcom County retailers, based on info compiled by BlackFriday.com and local sources. Check the ads or company websites to confirm starting times.

Thursday, Nov. 24

  • 7 a.m. Big Lots!
  • 8 a.m. Walgreens, 2020 Solutions
  • 3 p.m. JC Penney
  • 4:45 p.m. Bellis Fair doors open, but stores are not required to be open. Check BellisFair.com for details.
  • 5 p.m. Best Buy, Macy’s
  • 6 p.m. Michaels, Kohl’s, Sears Hometown store, Target, Wal-Mart
  • 7 p.m. Kmart

Friday, Nov. 25

  • 5 a.m. Fred Meyer, Lowe’s, GameStop
  • 6 a.m. Bellis Fair, Office Depot/Office Mac, Bed Bath & Beyond, Guitar Center, DeWaard & Bode, JoAnn Fabrics, Home Depot
  • 7 a.m. Harbor Freight tools, PetSmart, Petco, Burlington clothing store
  • 8 a.m. Bellingham Ace Hardware, Pier 1 Imports, 2020 Solutions
  • 9 a.m. Judd & Black, Costco

Fairhaven, small-business events

It's not just the national retailers that are organizing events for Black Friday and through the weekend.

Fairhaven will kick off its holiday festival on Friday, with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus from 3 to 4:45 p.m., according to Fairhaven.com.

The annual lighting of the trees is at 5 p.m., while the holiday art walk is 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Many businesses throughout Whatcom County also will be participating in Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26. In downtown Bellingham, stores will be offering discounts and a passport program that involves prize giveaways.