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Even with weeks of ongoing sales, shoppers are still banking on Black Friday for the ultimate deals

As the holiday shopping season ramps up, consumers are enthusiastically purchasing Squishmallows, Barbies, Legos, headphones, and sweaters.

It seems the frenzy of deal-hunting mobs and the pre-dawn queues from Black Fridays of yore have become fading memories, yet millions of Americans still made their way to malls and big box stores in pursuit of bargains. Despite the shift to online shopping, the holiday spending spree continues.

Even as retailers have extended the once-single-day dash into a prolonged shopping marathon, the day after Thanksgiving retains its status as a prime time for snagging discounts. According to Mickey Chadha, a retail analyst and vice president at Moody’s, Black Friday remains psychologically significant as it marks the start of the holiday season. This trend has persisted for quite some time.

Customers wasted no time as stores like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Macy’s welcomed them as early as 6 a.m. on Friday. While the shopping activity was mostly tranquil, an unfortunate bomb threat led to a temporary evacuation of the nation’s second-largest mall, the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, N.J. Law enforcement and K-9 units conducted thorough checks for explosive devices, yet none were found, as confirmed by the New Jersey State Police. Operations resumed at the mall shortly after the clearance.

Online activity surged with heightened Google searches for popular items like Ugg, Lego, Apple Watch, and Nintendo Switch consoles. Adobe Analytics reported that online spending this month has exceeded expectations, with Americans flocking to purchase a range of items, from Squishmallows, Barbies, and accessories to headphones, makeup gift sets, and cozy sweaters.

Retailers are now eagerly anticipating whether this momentum will extend into Cyber Monday and persist throughout December. According to a Gallup poll, the average adult is expected to spend $923 on gifts this year, slightly down from 2022 but consistent with 2019 levels.

Natalie Kotlyar, a retail analyst at BDO, highlighted the significance of discounts, wondering how deep these cuts would need to be and if consumers are holding out for substantial discounts.

At NorthPark Center, Azarel Shibes, along with her mother, arrived early to snag good deals at various stores but found most of them closed and the discounts disappointing. Disheartened by the situation, Shibes noted the decline in sales compared to previous years.

Adobe forecasts that the best deals are currently available, with the Thanksgiving weekend promising the steepest discounts, especially on items like televisions, apparel, toys, and furniture. A Shopify-Gallup poll revealed that 86% of consumers plan to do their holiday or personal shopping during this period.

While consumers have displayed remarkable resilience in the face of inflation, increased debt, and higher interest rates, analysts, industry groups, and major retailers are observing signs of retrenchment. Bank of America economist Aditya Bhave attributed this year’s robust consumer spending to a robust labor market, wage growth, and accumulated savings from the pandemic. However, a cooling hiring rate in October, a decline in retail sales, particularly for big-ticket items like cars and furniture, and the resumption of student loan payments signal a potential adjustment in consumer behavior.

The National Retail Federation predicts that consumers will spend between $957.3 billion to $966.6 billion throughout November and December, marking a 3 to 4 percent increase compared to last year. However, this growth is notably lower than the 5.4 percent surge witnessed in 2022. Moody’s is even more conservative in its forecast, anticipating a modest growth range of 1 to 3 percent.

According to Chedly Louis, a retail analyst and vice president at Moody’s, consumer confidence has waned due to prevailing uncertainty in the macroeconomic landscape, a factor that tends to unsettle consumers.

The NorthPark mall witnessed Alyssa Haigood, Kerri Vera, and Janet Brutlag hunting for wedding dresses, scoring some impressive deals at Macy’s and Dillard’s. Despite their shopping success, they noticed the crowds were only marginally larger than a typical Saturday. “We haven’t been in a line yet,” Brutlag noted.

Samantha Greenberg and her extended family used to embark on a Black Friday tradition, lining up at stores like Target, Kohl’s, and Old Navy. Over the years, the tradition dwindled as store openings encroached on Thanksgiving dinner. Greenberg reminisces, “We really did it for the spectacle and the thrill of the experience.” The evolving landscape, where deals now span days and weeks, has diminished the urgency. “So the thrill is sort of gone,” she remarked.

Online sales have outpaced projections, surging 5 percent year-over-year to $63.2 billion from November 1 to November 20, surpassing Adobe’s anticipated 4.8 percent growth for the season. Nearly half of these purchases stemmed from mobile devices, signifying consumers’ eagerness to find enticing online deals.

Despite this online surge, retail giants like Best Buy, Lowe’s, and Kohl’s remain cautious. Several of these companies, in their third-quarter earnings releases, revised down their full-year financial forecasts, reflecting a degree of wariness amid the holiday shopping frenzy.

Despite Walmart’s optimistic outlook, Chief Financial Officer John David Rainey highlighted a trend of reduced discretionary spending among Americans. He noted that health, wellness, and grocery sales performed better than general merchandise.

Best Buy’s CEO Corie Barry predicted a customer base primarily focused on seeking deals this holiday season, expecting shopping patterns to align more closely with historical holiday periods. The company anticipates heightened shopping activity around Black Friday week, Cyber Monday, and the final two weeks of December.

Amazon, after its successful Prime Big Deal Day, reported robust October holiday kickoff sales. CEO Andrew Jassy mentioned their readiness to meet consumer demand, emphasizing Amazon’s operational preparedness. However, in various countries, warehouse workers staged strikes and protests over Amazon’s business practices on Black Friday, illustrating ongoing labor concerns.

While retailers experienced relief in margins due to reduced supply chain costs, there are concerns regarding slow-selling discretionary categories that may need to be cleared out by spring. Moody’s Mickey Chadha highlighted categories like apparel, footwear, and electronics, often postponed amid inflationary pressures.

This holiday season, deal-seeking consumers may benefit, as noted by retail analyst Natalie Kotlyar. Shoppers are more intentional in their purchases, seeking specific discounts rather than making impulsive buys due to financial constraints.

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