Retailers statewide should do 4 percent more business than last year this holiday season, which officially begins with Black Friday, but Orange County's store owners should register a slightly larger increase, according to Esmael Adibi, director of the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research at Chapman.
The big question for economists is what effect will early-bird retailers have on Black Friday, named because it starts the period when retailers are profitable or ``in the black.''
``It will be interesting to see what happens,'' said Mary Gilly, a UC Irvine marketing professor.
``I've seen research on Black Friday shopping that shows it's a family event. After eating turkey they plan out their strategy, who's going to go where when they get up at 4 a.m.,'' Gilly said.
``It's kind of an adventure, and I think (the early openings) takes away the challenge. Anyone can go to the store at 8 at night, but it takes a real trooper to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to do it. And at one point does it stop and (Black Friday) becomes just a regular shopping day?''
The Irvine Spectrum Center will be one of those destinations with early openings, with 95 percent of the businesses opening at midnight Thanksgiving, said Stacie Ellis of the Irvine Co.
DJs at the Spectrum will play holiday music and offer chances to win $1,000 shopping sprees. The Spectrum's ice rink, carousel and Ferris wheel will also be open.
Still, Ellis believes many families will enjoy the Black Friday tradition because the Irvine Co. shopping centers are destinations for many in the community.
``Some people just love Black Friday. But our centers have always been built to be a downtown ... And we really do build that community with them.
More shoppers are choosing to do business online, but many others still want the experience of going to the store, Ellis said.
``We have found a lot of customers, me included, shop online, but they do show up in the store, too, because people like to touch and feel,'' Ellis said.
And with the entertainment at the Irvine Co.'s shopping centers, such as at the Market Place in Tustin, where shoppers can hear carolers and a steel drum band playing holiday jingles, bargain hunters can have a memorable experience, Ellis said.
``It's a lot more fun to go ice skating for free at midnight. It's a memory and something to talk about instead of just sitting at a computer clicking away,'' Ellis said.
Economists expect a more robust shopping season this year in part because consumer confidence is growing, Adibi and Gilly agreed.
Not even the talk in Washington about the ``fiscal cliff,'' and with it the doomsday predictions for the economy, can dampen the holiday shopping spirit, the economists said.
Most shoppers ``don't have a good grasp of what it is,'' Adibi said of the possibility of rising taxes and deep cuts in federal spending looming on Jan. 1 unless lawmakers cut a deal.
``They just think it's higher taxes,'' Adibi said.
Said Gilly: ``I don't think they're thinking, `Are my taxes going to go up, maybe I should cut back.' Maybe some are, but I'm skeptical. It's more of a `How I feel today.'''
Black Friday may persist for the foreseeable future, despite the earlier openings, but Cyber Monday is looking more like a relic, Gilly said.
``They're still talking about Cyber Monday, which is crazy, because the only reason for it before was because people only had fast (Internet) connections at work. But now everybody has fast connections,'' Gilly said.
Since some smaller retailers are concerned that the earlier openings on Thanksgiving Day, there's been a social networking push on Facebook from American Express at introducing ``Small Business Saturday,'' Gilly said.
- City News Service