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In this Nov. 23, 2017, file photo shoppers enter a Best Buy looking for early Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving Day in Bowling Green, Ky.

Bac Totrong/The Associated Press

Despite holiday sales starting earlier each year and shifting shopping habits, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping aren’t losing their importance, retail leaders said.

Millions of consumers will hit the stores and their computers this week as retailers debut deep discounts for hopeful holiday shoppers on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and into next week on Cyber Monday.

But many have already started their holiday shopping, taking advantage of the deals retailers began offering early this month in what Ohio Council of Retail Merchants president and CEO Gordon Gough calls “Black November.”

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Still, “Black Friday remains the ‘official’ kickoff to the holidays and an important tradition for millions of shoppers across the country. There is no indication that will change in the foreseeable future,” according to NRF.

Ashley Othersen of Eaton, Ohio, is one of those shoppers who sees Black Friday as the starting point for holiday shopping.

“Usually on Black Friday I try to get the sale items and then after that … I’ll go and get the bigger items after Black Friday throughout the rest of December,” Othersen said.

And while Black Friday shopping, Othersen said she prefers the in-store shopping experience to see and feel what she’s buying. And even as online and earlier sales grow, Black Friday’s experience can’t be rivalled elsewhere, said Riley Dugan, a marketing professor at the University of Dayton.

“Sometimes people like Black Friday shopping, because they like being among crowds of people,” he said. “They feel good about themselves because they’re getting deals, where evolutionary we evolve to kind of feel like hunter gatherers.”

The deep discounts on Black Friday can’t be matched online, with brick-and-mortar companies marking prices so low on some items they can’t even make a profit. But the cheaper items will draw shoppers into the store where they’ll hopefully buy other merchandise where the retailer can make a profit, Dugan said.

Even as millions of consumers will head to stores, online sales are predicted to jump 15 per cent this year, according to Adobe Analytics, a result of changing consumer habits favouring convenience. Last year, shoppers spent nearly $20 billion online during the five-day span from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday alone.

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“Retail is retail, all we’re going to do is respond to the manner in which the consumer wants to make the transaction,” said Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.

The line between online and brick-and-mortar is blurry, as being able to touch and see a product in stores can often drive a consumer to purchase it later online, Gough said.

“Having a brick-and-mortar store actually increases your online traffic because consumers are more aware of the merchandise that the retailer offers, first, by seeing it in person, and then maybe making purchases online,” he said.

Those consumers could be waiting for deals, with NRF reporting that 85 per cent of consumers have backed out of purchasing an item because it wasn’t on sale. And while the deals this week may appear to be the best retailers have to offer, Dugan said shoppers should hold out even longer for merchandise that didn’t sell during the holidays.

“People who are patient can probably find the best deals in late January and February because at that point, people are already tapped out from the holidays,” he said. “Oftentimes there’s huge discounts at that time of year more so than even the holidays because stores are kind of desperate to move that merchandise and people are really not very flushed with cash at that time a year ”

Retailers will also offer deals early in January to attract shoppers who received gift cards during the holidays, Gough said.

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The average holiday shopper is expected to spend $1,007 this year, according to NRF. In total, consumers are expected to spend between $717 billion to $721 billion holiday shopping this year.

The 4.3-to-4.8-per-cent increase between November and December is evidence of a healthy economy, where shoppers are willing to spend more amid low unemployment and more take-home pay.

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