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Super Saturday to surpass Black Friday?

Can Super Saturday take down Black Friday?

Several retail experts and merchants say Super Saturday on Dec. 17 is projected to be the busiest shopping day of the 2016 season, topping Black Friday this year for the first time in decades.

It's a duel between procrastinators who haven't yet begun Christmas shopping and early birds who started hunting for discounts the first week of November through Black Friday.

It's why malls throughout the Philadelphia region and big-box retailers are going all out on the final weekend before Christmas with extended holiday hours, increased staffing, beefed-up guest services, and freebies, such as gift wrapping and Wi-Fi charging stations.

According to the 2016 Deloitte Holiday Survey, 43 percent of consumers will do a majority of their holiday shopping in December, compared with 34 percent who got done from Thanksgiving until the end of November.

"Consumers have become accustomed to the cadence of discounts and realize that better deals may be for those that wait," said William J. Park, a partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP's Philadelphia office who tracks regional retail. "I expect the stores to be packed on Super Saturday."

But Park warns,  "Retailers have done a very good job of keeping inventory levels down — that usually means less discounting."

Some say two factors could favor Super Saturday's emerging on top this holiday season. Black Friday lost some ground this year as several dozen national retailers stayed close on Thanksgiving, which pushed Black Friday to Friday only, thus decreasing revenue during the four-day shopping weekend.

Second, e-commerce has been nipping away at traditional mall anchors and brick-and-mortar stores. Internet holiday sales are expected to reach a record $117 billion nationally this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

"So much more shopping was done online and sales started much earlier and over the whole month and accelerated that [Black Friday] week," said Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kahn released a report last week on how product placement -- either horizontal or vertical -- can influence how much we buy, with horizontal encouraging larger purchases of an item because we see more of it. Kahn said she expected her study would be put to the full test this weekend with the sheer amount of goods for sale.

Sales on Cyber Monday after Black Friday last month were robust, showing the gap had narrowed between store visits and online clicks — and further reason why Super Saturday is expected to be a huge windfall for retailers by attracting those who have done neither yet.

"In recent years, we've seen Super Saturday crowds rival those of Black Friday," said Kathy Smith, director of marketing and business development at King of Prussia Mall. "We're ready and excited for one of the last big pushes of the holiday shopping season."

Several Simon Property Group-owned malls, including KOP, Montgomery, and Oxford Valley malls, planned extended hours for Super Saturday — opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. Quaker Bridge Mall was opening at 7 a.m. Saturday and closing at midnight, while Philadelphia Mills Mall in Northeast Philly was to be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Outlet malls such as The Crossings, Gloucester, and Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick were to be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

All nine of the Philadelphia-area Simon Malls, Mills, and Premium Outlets  offer coat and bag checks, valet parking, shuttle services, and pop-up digital photo booths. Five area Simon malls were offering gift-wrapping services benefiting local charities.

Malls owned by Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) came up with a theme — Holiday VIP — to ensure better experiences for shoppers. The services geared to procrastinators will include insider tips, gift guides, and better use of cellphones to shop smarter.

PREIT spokeswoman Heather Crowell said its complementary services this weekend included free Wi-Fi, cellphone charging lockers, gift wrapping, and stroller rental.

PREIT Perks members at Cherry Hill, Willow Grove Park, and Springfield Malls can access a digital rewards program that earns them credit on purchases made at select PREIT malls.

At JCPenney stores, early morning customers Friday and Super Saturday  were being greeted with an envelope containing a coupons for purchases of $10, $20, and $100 while supplies last.

The big boxes also extended their hours. Some started announcing Super Saturday promotions last week that were discounts usually 10 to 30 percent on top of everyday markdowns.

On Saturday through Friday, Toys R Us stores nationwide will be open every day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. for more than 20 hours of last-minute shopping. It  also offered free shipping on online orders of $19 or more and free in-store pickup until 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Kohl's was offering exclusive one-day deals on Super Saturday. Stores will be open round the clock Dec. 20-24, starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Last-minute must-have gifts were to be available in-store and on throughout Super Saturday.

Many smaller retailers stocked up in preparation for the expected crush, such as John C. Picking Jr., owner of the three-year-old Wild Violet Natural Specialties in downtown Haddonfield.

Picking said small honey jars were his best seller as stocking stuffers, so he filled up to the max. He also extended his hours Saturday, opening from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. compared with the usual 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"We're ready," said Picking, who serves on the board of directors of the Partnership for Haddonfield, which promotes the township's professional and retail growth. "I think we will top Black Friday.

"The procrastinators are just as big a group as the early ones."