Crowds were thin at U.S. malls and stores on Black Friday morning, formerly the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, and online channels were expected to show the strongest gains in sales over last year.
Consumers’ greater interest in shopping online was reflected in glitches for the Macy’s Inc website, which was overwhelmed and forced many customers to wait to enter the site. The retailer said it was witnessing heavy customer traffic.
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 6 a.m.,” 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 5:20 a.m.
By Thanksgiving evening, online spending by U.S shoppers reached $1.13 billion for the day, according to Adobe Digital Index, surging almost 14 percent from a year ago. Online sales for Friday were at $1.65 billion as of 1 p.m. EDT, the data showed.
Target Corp said on Thursday it had seen one of its “strongest days ever” online. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the largest bricks-and-mortar retailer in the United States, said Thanksgiving Day was “one of the of the top online shopping days of the year.”
Store traffic is likely to fall 3 to 4 percent this year on Black Friday but will be offset by a 20 percent growth in customer traffic online, Cowen & Co analysts forecast in a note.
“We expect negative traffic given (the) earlier start this year of the holiday selling season and rise of mobile, which could be as much as 60 percent or more of all traffic, and consumer exhaustion from a saturated promotional environment,” the analysts said.
The deepest average discounts for Black Friday came from leading online retailer Amazon.com Inc, with an average of 42 percent off, compared with 33 percent off on Walmart, 35 percent on Target and 36 percent on Best Buy , according to e-commerce analytics firm Clavis Insight.
TRUMP STORE OFFERS A DEAL
President-elect Donald Trump also stepped into the online sales excitement. On Friday morning, Trump’s online store announced it was offering a 30 percent-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 rise of online shopping and cheap deals throughout the year.
“There will be continuing dominance in online sales today as consumers increasingly realize they will get the same deals in-store and online,” said Brent Schoenbaum, a partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP.
“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.
The holiday shopping season, which runs through 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 percent, mainly due to the rise in online shopping.
(Additional reporting by Svea Herbst Bayliss in Providence, Renita Young and Nandita Bose in Chicago, Siddharth Cavale in Bangalore, Amy Tennery and Stephanie Brumsey in New York; Editing by Ted Kerr and Cynthia Osterman)