Just as retailers launch their most elaborate Black Friday campaign to lure shoppers with early openings and blockbuster deals, there are signs some Bay Area shoppers will be avoiding the shop-till-you-drop tradition.
Many credit the store promotions that began in early November and the proliferation of online discounts.
"Why get up at 5 a.m. if you don't have to?" said Cathy Endriss, who was shopping with her daughter Carly Perez at a Walmart in Martinez on Friday. They plan to shop online from home, where they can sleep in and stay in their pajamas.
But make no mistake about it, a slightly muted Black Friday doesn't mean a bust for Bay Area retailers. Experts project stores will still be packed with die-hard shoppers, and many retailers, particularly stores selling Apple (AAPL) products and new tablets, are expected to make a bundle, just as they have in previous years.
Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University, cautioned against retailers getting too excited, or economists being too pessimistic, about this year's Black Friday turnout.
"The word is cautiously optimistic," he said. "In the overall economy, we're in a kind of holding pattern."
According to consumer research group BIGinsight, 147 million shoppers nationwide are expected to hit sales Black Friday weekend, which actually starts with sales Thanksgiving evening. That's about 5 million fewer shoppers than last year.
One reason for the falling interest is Black Friday-type deals are no longer limited to Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 23 this year. Many consumers started shopping in early November, when stores rolled out 40 to 50 percent-off promotions. Other stores, including San Francisco-based Gap, are extending the shopping holiday into a weeklong promotion blitz.
"Retailers have almost diluted the importance of Black Friday and all the great deals and promotions we've come to expect just by trying to one-up their competition," said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director with BIGinsight.
Gina Schultz, of San Jose, picked up Christmas and birthday gifts for her daughter at Westfield Valley Fair mall Thursday. She said the Disney Store was running a sale she couldn't resist. With her shopping done early, Schultz said she'd be staying home on Black Friday.
Many online deals start long before Black Friday and extend through Cyber Monday. Retail giant Amazon, for instance, is running a weeklong Black Friday sale event.
Reshma Almaula, of Sunnyvale, said she studied online and store prices and found them comparable. She plans to do her shopping online this year while en route to visit family in India.
"It's the same stuff online that you get in the stores, and I would rather not wait in line and get trampled," she said.
Still, retail analysts expect the hard-core shoppers to turn up. They're the ones who revel at the idea of getting up before dawn to snatch up the bargain of a lifetime. Online shopping just doesn't offer the same thrill of the hunt that the malls do, and it's these super-shopping types who may sustain the retail holiday.
Some mall managers are preparing for huge turnouts. Sunvalley mall in Concord is predicting one of its best Black Fridays ever, said marketing director Kim Trupiano. Westfield Valley Fair general manager Gavin Farnam expects the mall will have one of its best years. The luxury mall will open at midnight Thursday for the first time.
"We're poised to definitely see an increase in sales," he said.
A big driver of sales for Westfield Valley Fair and other high-end malls will be the new iPad Mini and Microsoft's Surface tablet, both released to much fanfare recently. Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Experian Marketing Services, said he expects the new tablets and iPhone 5 will be among the top sellers this year. Westfield Valley Fair has Apple and Microsoft stores.
Some shoppers will use Black Friday discounts to buy expensive items they otherwise couldn't afford. Tracy St. John, of Lafayette, said he would head to Sears or Home Depot to pick up a new refrigerator. But he won't be one of the hard-core shoppers first in line: "It'll be more like 9:30 or 10" in the morning, he said.
But for Concord resident Maryime Van Brunt, once-a-year discounts won't persuade her to open her wallet on Black Friday. Van Brunt, a part-time bookkeeper, said she's concerned about gas prices and wants to save money for airfare to visit her kids in North Carolina.
One way to do that, she said, is to avoid shopping that day.
"I'm staying away from it," she said. "We're still holding tight. We're not going over budget."
Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.