NEW YORK (AP) — Cautious shoppers hunted for the best deals in stores and online as retailers offered new Black Friday discounts to entice consumers eager to shop for holiday gifts but weighed down by inflation.
Because of higher prices for food, rent, gasoline, and other necessities, many people were more selective and reluctant to spend money unless there was a big sale. Some pushed more into savings, turned to “buy now, pay later” services that allow payment in installments, or drained their credit cards at a time when the Federal Reserve is raising rates to cool the US economy.
Sheila Diggs, 55, went to a Walmart in Mount Airy, Maryland early Friday looking for a deal on a coffee maker. To save money this year, she said the adults in her family will draw names and pick one person to shop for.
“Everything goes up except your salary,” says Diggs, who manages medical records at a local hospital.
This year’s trends contrast with a year ago, when consumers bought early for fear of not getting what they needed amid supply network congestion. Stores didn’t have to discount much because they struggled to bring in items.
Early shopping has proven to be a fleeting trend, says Rob Garf, vice president and general manager of retail at Salesforce, which tracks online sales. People are holding on to the best bargains this year, and retailers this week responded with more enticing online deals after offering mostly lackluster discounts earlier in the season.
Online discounts were 31% on Thanksgiving, up 7% from the previous year, according to data from Salesforce. The sharpest discounts were in household appliances, general clothing, make-up and luxury handbags.
Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan, which featured discounts such as 60% off fashion jewelry and 50% off select shoes, was bustling with shoppers early Friday.
Traffic was “significantly higher” on Black Friday compared to the previous two years as shoppers become more comfortable in the crowds, said Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette.
He said the bestsellers from Macy’s online sale, which kicked off last weekend, included 50% off beauty sets. Last year, Macy’s, like many other stores, had supply chain issues and some gifts didn’t arrive until after Christmas.
“At this point, we’re done and ready to go,” he said.
Sophia Rose, 40, a respiratory specialist visiting Manhattan from Albany, New York, was heading to Macy’s with big plans to splurge after scrimping last year while still in school. She put herself on a budget for food and gas to cope with inflation, but had already spent $2,000 on holiday gifts and plans to spend a total of $6,000.
“I’m going to touch every floor,” she said. “That’s the plan.”
According to Jill Renslow, the mall’s Executive Vice President of Business Development, there was also more customer traffic than last year at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. She said there were 10,000 people in the sprawling mall in the first hour after it opened at 7 a.m., though inflation led many shoppers to figure out what to buy before showing up.
“With the economy, people plan a little more,” she said.
Delmarie Quinones, 30, went to a Best Buy in Manhattan to pick up a laptop and printer she ordered online for $179, instead of $379. Quinones, a health care worker, said higher prices for food and other spending causes her to reduce her spending from a year ago when she had money from the government’s child tax credits.
“I can’t have what I used to get,” said the mother of five children, ages 1 to 13. “Even when it came back to school, it was hard to get them essential items.”
Major retailers, including Walmart and Target, stood by their pandemic-era decision to close stores on Thanksgiving Day, moving away from doorbusters and pushing discounts on their websites instead.
But people are still shopping on Thanksgiving – online. Garf said Salesforce data showed online sales peaked in the evenings during the holidays this year, suggesting people moved from partying to shopping by phone. And with holiday travel uphe said a greater share of online shopping this year was on mobile devices.
“The cell phone has become the remote control of our daily lives, and this led to an increase in couch shopping as consumers sat down after Thanksgiving dinner,” Garf said.
But with more customers visiting stores this year, online sales growth slowed.
Shoppers spent $5.3 billion online on Thanksgiving Day, up 2.9% from the holiday last year, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks spending across websites. Adobe expects online purchases to reach $9 billion on Black Friday, up just 1% from a year ago.
Black Friday saw some of the labor unrest that has swept through the retail industry over the past year. A coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups is coordinating strikes and strikes at Amazon branches in more than 30 countries under a campaign called “Make Amazon Pay.” Hundreds of workers in a factory near the German city of Leipzig, among others, protested on Friday, calling for better working conditions and higher wages.
And at Walmart stores, some employees had Wednesday’s fatal shooting in a corporate store in Virginia in the back of their minds.
Jude Anani, a 35-year-old who works at a Walmart store in Columbia, Maryland, said the company offers training on how to respond in such circumstances, but he would like to see more protection. He was happy to see the police officer standing outside the store, as is typical on Black Friday, and wished that was the case “most of the year.”
Against the current economic backdrop, the National Retail Federation – the largest retail group – expects holiday sales growth to slow to a range of 6% to 8%, down from a blistering 13.5% growth a year ago. However, these figures, including online spending, are not adjusted for inflation, so actual spending may be even lower than a year ago.
Analysts view the five-day Black Friday weekend, including Cyber Monday, as an important barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend. The two-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas accounts for about 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales.
Hadero reported from Mount Airy, Maryland. Olson reported from Arlington, Virginia. Associated Press Personal Finance New York-based writer Cora Lewis contributed to this report.
Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio