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Retail Stores Hoping for Online Push of Shoppers | Business

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Retail Stores Hoping for Online Push of Shoppers

DORAVILLE, GA -- The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the start of the busy holiday shopping season. But many people got a jump on that by hitting the stores Thursday or going online.

Ironically, retailers are now using the popularity of internet shopping to try and get customers back into the stores. Indeed, in many ways this year, Black Friday isn't waiting till Friday.

Major stores opened Thanksgiving Day to give themselves a drum leg up on the bottom line.

"I do my shopping first, get my sales, then you go eat; then you rest up for 5 o'clock," said Lorraine Grant, as she went from aisle to aisle at Kmart in Doraville.

Many shoppers were like her, preferring to go against the grain and avoid the crush at the cash register.

"Jewelry, lots of jewelry deals," mused shopper Josanne Heath. "Not a lot of people are out here, so there are not a lot of crowds to deal with."

Retailers are doing everything they can to attract consumers.

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"I took a look at the sales circular, and it said they were open from 7 a.m. to noon," said another shopper. "I figured it was a good enough time to squeeze in before I go home and enjoy Thanksgiving."

Many chains are supplementing their traditional advertising with Internet bargains that are becoming more and more popular. In fact, ecommerce sales are up 16 percent while regular retail remains flat year to year.

"Consumers are smarter today about what they want to buy," said Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS Media. "They know how to use the Internet better than before, so they're not shy about clicking from website to website to find the best deal. So by the time they're ready to step foot into a retail store, they're ready to make a purchase. So retailers today are dealing with much more educated consumers."

But while a growing number of customers browse using their browsers, that's all most of them are doing, bouncing from site to site with only a small percentage actually buying. The trick is to get them from the computer into the stores.

"Once the customer steps into a store the likelihood of them making a purchase is higher than making a purchase on a website," said Harpointner. "Two to three percent of the time a consumer will make a purchase in an online store. Once they step foot into a physical retail store those numbers go up to about 20 to 30 perent, especially during the holiday shopping season."

Stores also want to be your "friend," using social media to lure you in, then using you to lure your other friends in.

And the emerging market of smart phones is keeping the deals literally at arm's length.

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"What we have now is a consumer who steps into the retail store, sees a product they're interested in, scans that product with one of those barcode reader (apps) and are literally doing their price shopping while they're in the store," said Harpointner. "So it takes efficiency to a whole new level."