But analysts and industry experts warn that Black Friday sales could be subdued this year. Earlier and steeper sales – while beneficial to strategic shoppers – hurting retailers whose margins are suffering from an overabundance of inventory and rising labor costs.
Meanwhile, consumers are showing signs of fatigue after battling decades of high inflation for much of the year. They got some respite in October: Prices rose 7.7 percent from a year ago, according to federal data released earlier this month. While still well above normal levels, it was lower than analysts had expected. Even wealthier Americans feel pinched, polls show. They still buy, but opt for cheaper options.
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“We are in unique economic situations — inflation has been at its highest for 40 years and many families’ budgets are being squeezed from all sides,” said Jie Zhang, a professor of marketing at the University of Maryland. “So there isn’t as much enthusiasm to open purses in this holiday shopping season.”
Third quarter financial results, consumer surveys and retail sales data offer a glimpse into how Black Friday could play out. Last week, the Census Bureau reported that retail sales rose 1.3 percent in October. But much of that expenditure was for necessities such as food and gasoline. Americans also continued to pull back on technology and devices.
These numbers are important to economists and policymakers because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the US economy. The demand for cooling raises the specter of recession fears. At the same time, the Federal Reserve is trying to lower prices by raising interest rates. The labor market has remained strong, allowing consumers to continue to spend.
In recent years, the novelty of Black Friday, which got its name because the rush of sales could turn retailers’ books from red to black, has slowly waned.
The big shopping day was once synonymous with doorbuster deals and long lines before dawn. Sunil Singh, 61, always looked forward to Black Friday – not just because of the deep discounts on tech gadgets, but also because it meant spending time with his son. The two had a tradition of lining up before dawn outside Best Buy in the San Francisco Bay Area in anticipation of its opening.
“That whole waking up at 4am, standing in line, you know, drinking hot cider and coffee in line, waiting for two hours, chatting with people, it was just a really fun time,” said Mountain’s Singh View, California. .
But as his son grew up and online shopping became easier and more productive, there was little need to show up for in-person sales.
“The deals, you can get them online,” he said. “You get such great deals weeks, ten days in advance. So it no longer makes sense.”
“It has lost its novelty,” Singh added.
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The rise of e-commerce shattered the Black Friday shopping experience. Now retailers are making it easier than ever for people to buy on their websites, apps and in-store, said Harley Finkelstein, the president of e-commerce platform Shopify.
“I think Black Friday, Cyber Monday [have] turned from a weekend into a season,” Finkelstein added. “And I think consumers like that because it means they can do more of their shopping sooner.”
The National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales will grow 6 to 8 percent this year across all categories, and digital purchases 10 to 12 percent. The average customer is projected to spend $832.84 on gifts and holiday items, which is in line with the 10-year average.
Shoppers are also increasingly dependent on social media: A worldwide research by the IBM Institute for Business Value, in conjunction with the National Retail Federation, found that 6 out of 10 shoppers get “inspiration and ideas” from TikTok, Instagram and other sites. The platforms provide a seamless browse-to-buy shopping experience, and with younger demographics spending more time on the apps, brands and companies are bringing their products to them.
But retailers are still taking steps to get people back into stores, said Shawn Grain Carter, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“When you go into the physical store, they often have additional doorbuster sales because they are trying to generate traffic,” she said, adding that after years of covid fears and crowd restrictions, shoppers want to be back in stores. “The pandemic has forced more consumers to realize that they want human connection and contact.”