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Despite weeks of sales, shoppers still betting on Black Friday for best deals

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DALLAS — Though deal-hungry mobs and pre-dawn lines are largely remnants of Black Fridays past, millions of Americans ventured into malls and big box stores in search of bargains. And they’re still spending big on the holidays — even if most of it is happening online.

The day after Thanksgiving remains one of the best days of the year to snag discounts, even though retailers have stretched what used to be a one-day dash into a months-long marathon. Still, Black Friday remains “meaningful psychologically in terms of starting the holiday season,” said Mickey Chadha, a retail analyst and vice president at Moody’s. “That phenomenon has been happening for quite a while.”

Shoppers began descending on stores early, with such retailers as Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy’s opening their doors by 6 a.m. Activity was mostly calm Friday, though a bomb threat briefly forced the nation’s second-largest mall to evacuate. Operations resumed at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, N.J., after law enforcement and K-9 units conducted sweeps for explosive devices and found none, the New Jersey State Police said on X.

The real bustle was happening on laptops and smartphones, where Google searches spiked for Ugg, Lego, Apple Watch and Nintendo Switch consoles. Online spending this month has outpaced projections, according to Adobe Analytics, as Americans snap up the aforementioned merchandise as well as Squishmallows, Barbies and accessories, headphones, makeup gift sets and, of course, sweaters.

Now, retailers are waiting to see if the momentum will carry into Cyber Monday and through December. The average adult is expected to spend $923 on gifts this year, slightly less than in 2022 but in line with 2019 levels, according to a Gallup poll.

“It’s all going to depend on the discounts,” said Natalie Kotlyar, a retail analyst at BDO. “The big question is: How deep will those discounts need to be and are consumers holding out for those deep discounts?”

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Azarel Shibes, 14, and her mother arrived at NorthPark Center here around 8:15 a.m. in hopes of scoring good deals at Aerie, Lululemon, Sephora and Free People. To their surprise, most of the stores weren’t open yet — and the discounts were disappointing. “The sales have gotten worse,” Shibes said. If they had known this would be the case, “we could have gotten up later.”

Adobe projects the best deals are rolling out now, with the five-day Thanksgiving weekend still promising the steepest discounts, particularly on televisions, apparel, toys and furniture. A Shopify-Gallup poll found that 86 percent of consumers plan to do their holiday — or personal — shopping those days.

Economists and policymakers, meanwhile, are watching for cracks in the exceptional resilience consumers have shown in the face of stubborn inflation, rising debt levels and higher interest rates. Analysts, industry groups and some of the nation’s largest retailers are seeing signs that Americans are scaling back.

Consumer spending this year was buoyed by a hot labor market, wage growth and a cache of savings accrued during the pandemic, said Aditya Bhave, an economist at Bank of America. But in October, hiring cooled and retail sales fell for the first time since March amid a pullback in big-ticket purchases like cars and furniture. Student loan payments also resumed last month.

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Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation forecasts that consumers will drop $957.3 billion to $966.6 billion in November and December. That’s 3 to 4 percent higher than last year, but well off the 5.4 percent bump recorded in 2022. Moody’s projects even more modest growth, of 1 to 3 percent.

“Consumer confidence has weakened,” said Chedly Louis, a retail analyst and vice president at Moody’s, adding that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the macroeconomic environment and “consumers don’t like that.”

Alyssa Haigood, 30, her mother, Kerri Vera, 53, and soon-to-be mother-in-law, Janet Brutlag, 63, hit the NorthPark mall intent on finding dresses for Haigood’s wedding next month. They said they snagged some good deals at Macy’s and Dillard’s.

Still, the crowds were only slightly larger than a typical Saturday, they observed. “We haven’t been in a line yet,” Brutlag said.

Samantha Greenberg, 32, and her extended family used to pile into their cars around midnight to line up for Black Friday. From her grade school years through high school, the game plan every year was the same: Target, Kohl’s and Old Navy.

“We really did it for the spectacle and the thrill of the experience,” said Greenberg, who works in marketing in Houston for a utility company. The tradition died down when store openings crept earlier, cutting into their Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, Greenberg barely feels the need to shop on Black Friday.

“These deals run on for days and weeks now, so you’re not bound to the same time frame that you were with Black Friday,” she said. “So the thrill is sort of gone.”

So far, online sales have surpassed Adobe’s forecasts. From Nov. 1 to Nov. 20, they climbed 5 percent year over year, to $63.2 billion. The analytics company projected 4.8 percent growth over the season. Almost half of those purchases were made on mobile devices.

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“Adobe’s early read on the season shows that despite rising costs elsewhere (student loan repayments, interest rates), consumers are finding great bargains online and willing to spend,” the company said in a news release.

From Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, Adobe expects shoppers to shell out another $37.2 billion online, 5.4 percent more than last year. But executives from the nation’s largest retailers — many of which released third quarter earnings this month — are expressing caution. Best Buy, Lowe’s, and Kohl’s lowered their full-year financial forecasts.

Though Walmart raised its outlook, Chief Financial Officer John David Rainey noted Americans are continuing to pull back on discretionary spending, adding that health, wellness and grocery sales outperformed general merchandise.

Best Buy is anticipating a “customer who is very deals focused” this holiday season, chief executive Corie Barry told investors Tuesday. “We expect shopping patterns will look even more similar to historical holiday periods than they did last year with customer shopping activity concentrated on Black Friday week, Cyber Monday and the last 2 weeks of December.”

Amazon, which had its Prime Big Deal Day last month, saw its “most successful October holiday kickoff event ever,” chief executive Andrew Jassy told investors during a third quarter earnings call. Amazon’s inventory and operations are well positioned to handle demand, added Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky. Still, warehouse workers in the United Kingdom, India, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Bangladesh used Black Friday to stage strikes and protests over the e-commerce giant’s business practices, according to UNI Global Union, a global federation of unions with affiliations in 150 countries. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, and its interim CEO, Patty Stonesifer, sits on Amazon’s board.)

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While retailers saw some relief on their margins thanks to lower supply chain costs, some are concerned about discretionary categories that haven’t sold as well this year and will need to be offloaded by the spring, Moody’s Chadha said. Categories like apparel, footwear and electronics are often ones consumers put off buying when facing inflationary pressure.

But this could work to the deal-hunting consumer’s advantage this holiday season, Kotlyar said. They’re shopping with more intention this year.

“They’re not necessarily being impulsive because they don’t have the wallet to be impulsive today,” she said. “They’re going in with the intention to buy if the right discount is there.”

Lauren Kaori Gurley contributed to this report.



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