Earlier openings make Black Friday shopping easier for bargain-hunters
Black Friday crowds were unlike any Kerry Capelli has seen in the 17 years she has made the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving trip to stores looking for bargains — they appeared to be smaller and less chaotic.
“It’s so much less busy than we’re used to,” said Capelli, 56, of Nanty Glo as she shopped Friday with her daughter in South Hills Village Mall. “It’s great for us. Not so great for the stores.”
More than 95.5 million people were expected to shop in stores and online on Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation. But Thanksgiving Day openings and promotions that began weeks ago are cannibalizing sales on the biggest shopping day of the year, said Chris Christopher, an IHS Global Insight economist in Lexington, Mass.
“Its just not going to be the same going forward,” said Christopher, who is forecasting overall holiday sales to be higher than last year. “It’s still a very important day, but it’s not going to be what it used to be.”
For some, Black Friday is a family tradition that they refused to break even if stores opened on Thanksgiving.
Betsy White, 47, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was shopping with a dozen family members in South Hills Village Mall, continuing a Black Friday tradition that goes back 20 years.
“She got some great deals,” White said, pointing to her sister, who purchased 22 items of children’s clothing for $98 from Crazy 8.
Sandy DelBene, store manager for women’s apparel retailer Christopher & Banks in the Westmoreland Mall, said activity took a while to pick up when the store opened at 5 a.m., but it improved later in the day.
“We started out a little slower for the first couple hours, but it’s been steady all day,” she said.
By 1 p.m., shoppers had mostly cleared out of the Wal-Mart in Robinson Town Centre, save for a few customers perusing what was left of discounted DVDs and children’s toys.
Nicole and Mike George of Springdale started shopping at 5:30 a.m. for toys for their nieces and nephews. They said they found a good deal on a Crayola easel on sale at Wal-Mart for $29.
“We’re getting a lot more deals this year,” Nicole George said.
But the biggest deals were not reserved just for Black Friday.
The temptation of deals on Thanksgiving Day coaxed even some reluctant bargain hunters out of their homes a day earlier.
Nicole Chiado of Freeport was one of them. She said she went to Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving with a friend who was buying a 50-inch television that was on sale for $218. She ended up buying one, too.
“I’m so against it,” Chiado said of shopping on the holiday. “I can’t believe I was there last night.”
The deals were online, too. Online shopping, which Christopher expects to be about 14.1 percent of holiday sales, was 13 percent above average on Wednesday, reflecting interest in pre-Thanksgiving Day sales, according to data tracked by Verizon.
The online sales and aggressive discounts that began in early November may have helped some shoppers avoid the typical Black Friday crowds.
Target rolled out pre-Black Friday deals of up to 60 percent off on some items and joined other national retailers such as Macy’s in opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart is stretching bargains over five days, with a “New Black Friday” event in stores and online that began at midnight Thursday and will run through Monday.
“Black Friday is no longer about waking up at the crack of dawn to wait in super long lines,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman.
Thanksgiving deals did not always steal away all Friday business, as some like Chiado chose to shop on both days. Chiado and her mother were out Friday morning to buy an appliance at JCPenney at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills.
Economists and industry analysts are watching the weekend closely to determine whether the improving job market and lower gasoline prices will translate into higher sales. Analysts are expecting holiday retail sales this year to rise more than 4 percent from last year, compared with 3.1 percent gains in 2013 and 2012. Total November-December holiday sales last year — $579.3 billion — were hurt by the federal government shutdown and frigid December temperatures.
Store managers at Target in South Hills Village Mall and JCPenney in the Westmoreland Mall said the initial crush of shoppers Thursday had let up by the early morning hours Friday, but traffic remained strong.
Fashion retailer Forever 21 was halfway to its Black Friday sales goal by 8:30 a.m., said Jolene Barragan, store manager at the South Hills Village Mall location.
“This is our biggest day,” she said. “I’ve been preparing for over a month for today.”
Some shoppers who were not ready as store doors opened missed out on deals.
Nicole Naggy of Exton went to Wal-Mart on Thursday night hoping to get a good deal on tablets for her daughters, but the store was sold out by the time she got there.
“We don’t usually go out (on Thanksgiving), but there were some deals we couldn’t pass up on,” she said Friday at the Westmoreland Mall.
Electronics — always popular for holiday shopping — will be on lists for a third of all shoppers this year, according to Deloitte. That translated into a busy day for Best Buy.
A surge in mobile traffic during the height of Black Friday shopping led Best Buy to shut down its website for more than an hour Friday morning. The stores were busy, too. Best Buy in Robinson was still full of people by midafternoon, a long checkout line weaving through the aisles and the volume on-par with last year, said General Manager Jason Barranti.
“It’s been extremely busy,” he said.
A number of shoppers said they are enjoying improved finances this year, which could be good for retailers. This year, 69 percent of consumers’ surveyed by financial consultant Deloitte said they plan to spend more than last year.
Natalie Keys of Unity is among those feeling more confident.
“The economy is better, work is good, and gas is cheaper,” Keys said.
Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or [email protected]. Staff writers Gideon Bradshaw, Katelyn Ferral, Megan Harris, Jacob Tierney and Jodi Weigand contributed to this report.