SALT LAKE CITY — Retailers across the Wasatch Front are preparing for the official kickoff to the Christmas shopping frenzy that is "Black Friday," which may not be the biggest shopping day of the year, but is certainly the most anticipated and highly marketed of the holiday shopping season.
These days Black Friday shopping is starting a little at some retailers. For instance, stores at Southtowne Center in Sandy will begin their holiday season at midnight Friday with the fifth annual "Midnight Madness Jammie Jam," where customers will be encouraged to spend the night strolling the mall in their pajamas and slippers as they "shop till they drop."
The event typically draws up to 15,000 people.
"We'll have live music from midnight to 6 a.m.," said Natalie Watson, Southtowne Center senior marketing manager. There will be hourly prizes for patrons, including gift cards to mall merchants along with wrapped holiday gifts.
"The atmosphere is fun, but when it comes down to it, these people are here to shop," Watson said. "People have bags hanging off of their arms they can barely carry. They are on a mission!"
For the first time, shoppers can add Macy's department store to their list of merchants to check out.
While many shopping centers and discount retailers will open as earlier as late Thursday evening this year, others will take a more traditional approach. Most of the retailers at the Salt Lake Valley's top grossing shopping center — Fashion Place in Murray — will "wait" until 6 a.m. on Friday morning to open their doors.
"We felt that this year we wanted to try something new and different," said Celeste Dorris, Fashion Place general manager. "We've got some promotions and events that we are going to highlight that afternoon."
From 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. will be the main shopping event, Dorris said, though some stores will open at midnight Friday.
"We're changing it up a little bit," she said.
Meanwhile, some would-be Black Friday shoppers are already lining up at some retail outlets to be among the first inside when the big sales begin. Jose Figueroa and J.D. Lauret set up outside of the Best Buy electronics store in Orem on Monday so they could get a bargain on an xBox gaming system.
"For Thanksgiving, my wife and I are going to take shifts with friends so we can be with family," Lauret said. "We're going to have two people here everyday."
"I got to go to work soon so I got to call my buddy to cover the 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. shift for me and then I'll come back," Figueroa said.
Though many fanatic shoppers will brave the elements in the days leading up to Black Friday, more and more consumers are opting to shop online rather than compete with Friday's anticipated crowds. A National Retail Federation survey indicated that the average consumer planned to spend 36 percent of holiday shopping online rather than venturing out to the mall — a 33 percent increase over 2010 retail forecasts. In addition, the NRF projected 2011 holiday retail sales to climb to around $466 billion, a 2.8 percent increase over last year's numbers.
The survey also found that half of smartphone owners planned to use their mobile devices to expedite their holiday shopping and one out of 5 mobile users said they would complete their transactions using their smartphone, which could potentially put them at risk.
“As more consumers turn to their tablets and smartphones for shopping information, cyber thieves are also developing their own apps to steal your money,” cautioned Traci Gundersen, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. “Try to use apps from trusted sources and don’t leave your device unattended in a public place.”
Internet fraud continues to be the number one consumer complaint to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. Consumers cite failure to deliver the goods, failure to honor warranties and using false or misleading statements among the chief complaints.
“Online shopping continues to grow in popularity for consumers and fraudsters making it an attractive target every year,” said Francine Giani, executive director of the state Dept. of Commerce. “In the race to get the best deal, make sure you aren’t ignoring safety measures. Always buy from a secure website, make sure you are using a reputable merchant and that you understand the terms of sale before you type in your account information.”
Some recommendations Utah consumers should consider when shopping online:
1. Compare prices. Similar items typically fall into a general price range. Scammers will try to entice victims to their websites with exceptionally low prices.
Anyone can set up shop online. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have any problems or questions.
3. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. Make sure you have installed the latest firewall and anti-virus software to protect your computer against online attacks.
4. Enter financial information only on secure sites. Do not e-mail financial information, like your credit card or checking account number. If you initiate a purchase on-line, look for indicators that the site is secure. Although no indicator is fool-proof, look for a lock icon on the browsers status bar, or a URL address that includes an “s” after http.
5. Do not send cash or wire money for payment. Do not wire money via Western Union or Money Gram for items purchased on-line; you maybe giving your money to scammers, and you may never get the item you “ordered.” Pay by credit/debit card or PayPal.
6. Keep a paper trail. Print and save records of all your on-line transactions, including the product description, price, on-line receipt, and e-mails.
7. Review the refund policy and delivery rates. Look to see if you can return a product for a full refund if you are not satisfied. Check out who pays for the cost of shipping a returned item.
8. Consider Coupons. Some companies offer discounts via e-mail, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts.
9. Consider Reputation. Reviews from other customers, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs.
10. Use your Smartphone wisely. Mobile devices offer convenient consumer resources, but they may also provide fraudsters with your personal and account information. A good rule of thumb is to be sure that what you are installing comes from a legitimate source, keep an eye on your bill, investigate if your battery runs down quickly and do not leave your phone unattended.
For more information on how to protect yourself from scams, log onto the Utah Division of Consumer Protection website at; www.consumerprotection.utah.gov <http://www.consumerprotection.utah.gov/>