Crowds were thin at U.S. malls and stores on Black Friday morning, formerly the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, with stores opening earlier and online sales expected to take the biggest share of gains in retail sales over last year.
In the New York and Chicago areas, shoppers said stores were less busy than previous years on the day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Nobody was busting down the doors at 6am,” said Tracy Watkins, a Bed, Bath and Beyond store manager at the Chicago Ridge Mall, as temperatures outside lurked below freezing.
“I’ve been here on other Black Fridays and it was bad, but I guess this year because of the hours it’s not bad. Really calm,” said shopper Lauren Green, who was in line outside a Zara clothing store in the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island east of New York at 5:20am.
By Thanksgiving evening, online spending by US shoppers had climbed to $1.13bn, according to Adobe Digital Index, surging almost 14 percent from a year ago.
Target Corp said on Thursday it had seen one of its “strongest days ever” online. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the largest bricks-and-morter retailer in the United States, said Thanksgiving Day was “one of the of the top online shopping days of the year.”
The deepest average discounts for Black Friday came from leading online retailer Amazon.com Inc, with an average of 42 per cent off, compared with 33 per cent off on Walmart, 35 per cent on Target and 36 percent on Best Buy, according to e-commerce analytics firm Clavis Insight.
President-elect Donald Trump also stepped into the online sales excitement. On Friday morning, Trump’s online store announced it was offering a 30 per cent-off deal on all campaign products, including a $149 Christmas ornament.
“President-elect Trump loves a great deal,” a promotional email said.
For years, Black Friday has started the holiday shopping season in the United States with retailers offering steep discounts. But its popularity has been on the wane with the emergence of online shopping and cheap deals through the year from retailers.
“There will be continuing dominance in online sales today as consumers increasingly realise they will get the same deals in-store and online,” said Brent Schoenbaum, a partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Schoenbaum, who was out visiting stores in Glendale, California, said customer traffic in-store remained subdued.
“It used to be very busy, but for the past two years the mornings are not very crazy,” said Gina Reynolds, a 39-year-old housewife who was shopping at a Macy’s store in the Water Tower Place Mall in Chicago.
Crowds were also relatively thin at other retailers in the mall, including department store J.C. Penney and apparel seller Abercrombie & Fitch.
The holiday shopping season, which runs through Thanksgiving and Christmas on Dec 25, can account for as much as 40 percent of retailers’ annual sales.
The National Retail Federation has said it expects sales this holiday season to increase by 3.6 per cent to about $656bn, mainly due to the rise in online shopping.