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Bargain hunters’ paradise

NEW YORK (AP) – Shoppers venturing out to malls and stores on Black Friday found perks such as virtual reality experiences and old-fashioned doorbusters, as retailers tried to entice customers who are resisting splurges and impulse buying this year.

Consumers are under pressure as their savings dwindle and their credit card debt grows.

Inflation has eased but many goods and services like meat and rent are still far higher than they were three years ago.

Yvonne Carey, 72, was among the first shoppers at Macy’s Herald Square store in Manhattan where she snapped up discounted Michael Kors slippers and Ugg boots for herself. But Carey said she plans to stick to the same USD1,000 budget as last year as she shops for gifts for her six grandchildren and her husband.

“The prices are crazy on everything food, clothes,” Carey said.

Many retailers ordered fewer goods for this holiday season and pushed holiday sales earlier in October than last year to help shoppers spread out their spending.

The trend for an early shopping push became more pronounced in 2021, when clogs in the supply network made people buy early for fear of not getting what they wanted. But this year, retailers said more shoppers were willing to wait until the last minute in hopes of finding better deals.

ABOVE & BELOW: Photos show people shopping during Black Friday in the United States. PHOTO: AP

“In this economy it’s really hard. We had to save some gift cards. We’ve been saving for like months ahead, to try and make it work, keep it normal,” said Damaris Fay Bayard, shopping with her husband and daughter at a mall in Metairie, Louisiana.

Gone are the Black Fridays of years ago when customers would stand in line for hours in the middle of the night, or brawls would break out over high demand items.

But Black Friday shopping remains a favourite tradition for many, and retailers tried to reward devotees with steeper discounts and other surprises.

“Tradition every year, get up at four o’ clock, eat breakfast and come in the mall and shop all day,” said Martha Stewart, singing and giddily looking through her shopping bags at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Metarie.

At Macy’s Herald Square store, the Disney Princess shop had augmented reality allowing delighted youngsters to virtually step into one of the princess dresses.

Shoppers who streamed in soon after the doors opened at 6am were greeted with discounts of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent on footwear, handbags and diamond jewellery.

“The customer is under pressure. You see it with what is going on in luxury. That is a recent development,” Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that shoppers across all income levels are ”more discerning about how they are spending their budget”.

About 12,000 customers showed up at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the first hour of its 7am opening – 20 per cent more than last year, said the shopping centre’s executive vice-president of business development and marketing Jill Renslow. She said she expects sales to be up anywhere from three to four per cent at the mall.

CEO Stephen Lebovitz of mall operator CBL Properties also said traffic was similar or better on Friday compared with a year ago based on a spot check of 18 of its 54 malls.

He said more stores brought back doorbuster discounts, a Black Friday hallmark before the advent of online shopping. Palmetto Moon gave out USD25 gift cards to the first 50 people in line, while JCPenney gave out 200 discount cards every four hours.

Consumers spent USD5.6 billion on Thanksgiving Day, when most of the major stores like Macy’s and Kohl’s closed and shoppers focused on online shopping, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online spending. That was up 5.5 per cent compared with a year ago.

For the first 23 days of November, consumers spent USD76.7 billion online, up 6.8 per cent from the same period a year ago. Online sales on Black Friday are expected to bring in USD9.6 billion, up 5.7 per cent compared with the year-ago period, Adobe said.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, expects shoppers will spend more this year than last year, but their pace will slow.

The group has forecast that US holiday sales will rise three to four per cent for November through December, compared with 5.4 per cent growth a year ago.

The forecast is consistent with the average annual holiday increase of 3.6 per cent from 2010 to pre-pandemic 2019.

Americans ramped up spending during the pandemic, with money in their pockets from federal relief cheques and nowhere to go during lockdowns.

Online discounts should be better than a year ago, particularly for toys, electronics and clothing, according to Adobe.

It predicts toys will be discounted on average by 35 per cent, compared with 22 per cent a year ago, while electronics should see 30 per cent cuts, compared with last year’s 27 per cent. In clothing, shoppers will see an average discount of 25 per cent, compared with 19 per cent last year.

Analysts consider the five-day Black Friday weekend – which includes the Monday after the holiday known as Cyber Monday – a key barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend.

This year, “it has been slow,” said founder Gabriella Santaniello of A Line Partners, an independent retail research firm in Los Angles, who had a network of associates scoping out malls and stores in Dallas, Philadelphia, Orlando, Florida and other parts of the country on Friday. “They’re getting out to shop. But I don’t think they’re buying as much.”

Worker unrest and protests over the Israel-Gaza war clouded the shopping experience in some parts of the world.

Pro-Palestinian activists staged Black Friday protests in Los Angeles and Washington. In Europe, the UNI Global Union said it organised “Make Amazon Pay” strikes and protests in 30 countries. Amazon said the strikes would not affect customers.

Black Friday is expected as usual to be the busiest shopping day of the year, according to Sensormatic Solutions, which tracks store traffic.

But some shoppers who returned to stores for Black Friday for the first time in years were unimpressed by the size of the crowds and the quality of the discounts.

Samuel Alvez, 44, and his wife bought two computer monitors and a pressure cooker at a Walmart in Germantown, Maryland, but came away disappointed in the discounts during their first Black Friday outing in years.

“Back in the day, they had these good deals in stores,” Alvez said. “Now, we don’t see  that anymore.”