Black Friday still brings out shoppers seeking deals

Online shopping is surely siphoning off some of the post-Thanksgiving spending and subtracting from the size of crowds, but the lure of early morning bargains — and the pull of tradition — drew many people back to the stores and malls Friday.

Black Friday doesn’t mark the start of holiday shopping as it did years ago, part of a trend that accelerated during the pandemic.

Overall holiday sales in November and December are expected to reach more than $940 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation. And while consumers have been starting their holiday shopping earlier each year, the day after Thanksgiving remains a potent retail force.

“I think I spent $400 online last night,” said Sean Dunn, standing in an aisle Friday morning at the Bass Pro Shops location at Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville with his wife, Becky.

Their cart wasn’t full, but they weren’t finished.

“I came for a particular fishing rod,” Sean said. “They didn’t have that one, but I bought another. It was $119, and that’s a pretty good price.”

Internet shopping just cannot be the whole story, said Becky, which is why they drove from Griffin in the pre-dawn to shop Friday.

“We have to get out,” she said.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

They were not alone. Roughly 77 million shoppers were expected to hit stores Friday, according to NRF projections.

And for many, whatever purchases they made with clicks and taps online, a pre-sunrise, in-person experience was an enduring ritual.

Sherry Humphries and her family drove about 45 minutes from North Georgia to the Bass Pro Shops.

Resting on a rock bench, she gestured at a gradually filling cart.

“I’ve only been through about half the store so far,” she said. “We didn’t come for anything in particular. But so far, we ended up picking up some pretty good deals. Some flannels and shirts and hoodies.”

Told that the NRF estimated average holiday spending to be $800, Humphries laughed.

“Last night, I spent about $800 and I was at home,” she said.

She expected to spend $200 or $300 more during the morning.

“While consumers continue to save the bulk of their holiday shopping for later in November and December, some of that spending has shifted into October,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategy for Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Still, more than two-thirds of holiday shoppers plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend, according to a survey Prosper Insights conducted for the NRF projections.

Small Business Saturday, when shoppers are encouraged to support local stores, follows Black Friday. Cyber Monday, when retailers often offer online deals, will attract an estimated 63.9 million shoppers, according to the NRF forecast.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

And some shoppers will still wait until late in the holiday season to buy gifts, according to forecasts from Ware2Go, an on-demand fulfillment and warehousing subsidiary of UPS that helps the shipping giant to offer one- to two-day shipping to its customers.

About 56% of consumers plan to buy most of their holiday gifts in December, according to a Ware2Go survey, while 82% plan to buy at least some gifts at the last minute.

Inflation this year has been taking a bite out of household finances, with prices climbing especially on food, fuel and rents. Inflation has taken a toll on consumers’ pocketbooks as well. About 61% of consumers have cut back online spending, the Ware2Go survey found.

But recent months have seen gas prices drop while inflation eases on other items. And while consumers have been all-too-aware of cost increases, early signs were that they were looking for bargains to stretch their dollars rather than shutting down their shopping.

“They’re good prices,” said Kim Moon of Royston, pushing a shopping cart with several layers of flannel shirts. “I’ve already spent more than I should.”

Holiday retail sales in November and December 2022 are expected to grow 6% to 8% over 2021′s record sales, according to the NRF.

Travis Hill of Loganville arrived at Bass Pro Shops about 5:45 a.m. Friday. By about 6:15, he was pushing a cart that carried a 30-quart fryer and several boxes of 9 mm ammunition that he said he wanted for target practice.

Would he likely reach $800 in holiday spending?

“Oh yes,” he said. “Easily.”

He gestured at his cart and laughed. “I’m just starting.”

Credit: Michael E. Kanell

Credit: Michael E. Kanell