Black Friday fever lost a little of its heat this year, but millions of shoppers still hit stores and malls to track down bargains.
With more retailers starting promotions before or on Thanksgiving, many consumers didn’t wait for the longtime kickoff of the holiday shopping season and instead began snapping up deals at stores in early November. And with mainstream retailers now fully embracing online commerce, many consumers are staying home and searching for that ideal gift.
For those who stuck to the Black Friday shopping tradition, the spread-out shopping season and online buying made parking lots less frenzied and checkout lines less chaotic.
Benita McGraw and three friends noticed something was missing as they traced their traditional Black Friday shopping route this year.
Breakfast at Panera Bread, shopping at Target, Penney’s, Kohl’s and Independence Center before heading to Olive Garden for lunch.
“We don’t change our tradition,” said McGraw, who rejected the opportunity to shop on Thanksgiving Day.
But the traditionally busy shopping day after the holiday has changed around them. Parking was easy to find. Waits in line were short.
“I kind of liked the crowds, that thrill of getting your bargains,” said Tanya Stoner of Blue Springs, in the group with her mother, Lynda Hamilton of Oak Grove.
Added Amy Bristow, “We hate that they’ve changed it.”
The Potter family of Lenexa also refuses to shop on Thanksgiving Day, preferring to spend time with family members.
But by 6 a.m. Friday, Lindsey Potter and her mother, Delona Potter, were at Overland Park’s Oak Park Mall for a morning of doorbusters, including coats as much as 60 percent off at J.C. Penney and Macy’s. Three hours later, their arms were filled with purchases, all at big discounts.
“We want to get in and get out and be done with it,” said Lindsey Potter.
At the J.C. Penney store in Lee’s Summit, six women formed a circle in the main aisle swapping coupons, showing finds and plotting their next moves. They’re Black Friday regulars with no interest in Thanksgiving Day shopping. They noticed the holiday’s effect on crowds.
“This should be packed,” Robin Wankum of Lee’s Summit said, gesturing to the aisle. “This is like a regular shopping day. It’s not the same excitement.”
The holidays are make or break time for many retailers, which on average get 20 percent of their annual sales during the season. So it’s critical for retailers to be the first to ring in those holiday sales before shoppers complete their lists.
Already, retailers have resorted to steep discounting to lure shoppers, rolling out new promotions through Thanksgiving Eve and Thanksgiving Day. Discounts will continue through Cyber Monday, which aims to be a peak online buying opportunity, and beyond.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, said this year’s front-loaded holiday is the start of a new tradition that will have many retailers kicking off sales Nov. 1 in 2015.
“It was a different dynamic this year,” he said. “Much of it got diluted. But it also made it (Black Friday) a little bit more pleasant, more civilized for the consumer.”
Laura Phillips, senior vice president of merchandising for Wal-Mart, said more than 25 million people downloaded its Black Friday ad and more than 22 million people hit the stores on Thanksgiving, creating long lines for tablets and TVs. Wal-Mart had its second highest online sales day ever on Thanksgiving, topped only by 2013’s Cyber Monday.
Target chief executive officer Brian Cornell said he was “encouraged by early results” after Target.com had record online sales on Thanksgiving — up 40 percent, helped by free shipping.
Macy’s opened its doors two hours earlier Friday than it did in 2013. Terry Lundgren, chief executive officer of Macy’s, said activewear and outerwear had been big sellers so far for men, women and children.
Nebraska Furniture Mart in Kansas City, Kan., closed on Thanksgiving but came in strong with 6 a.m. Black Friday “door crashers” on TVs, sofas, loungers and more until 11 a.m.
Target also opened two hours earlier Friday than in 2013. Target and Toys R Us executives also said shoppers seemed to be buying more than just the doorbusters, filling their carts with items that were not on sale, another sign of consumer confidence.
Vivian Ward of Independence said she is spending more this holiday season because she can afford it after getting two raises this year. Still, she is shopping wisely and said the smaller Black Friday crowd gave her that opportunity. She normally skips Independence Center but stopped this year because the parking lot was less crowded than in years past.
“I think I found better deals than last year, especially at Dillard’s,” where she found an advertised gift. “It was worth coming out. I don’t feel like I lost anything, unless you wanted a TV.”
At Ward Parkway Center, there was plenty of parking on the center’s west side nearly an hour after its 8 a.m. early opening on Black Friday.
Despite being relatively quiet inside the mall, there were shoppers looking for ideas and for bargains.
For the family of Mary Beth Denzer of Kansas City, it’s a tradition to get out and go shopping on Black Friday.
“This is a generational shopping trip that we make every year,” Denzer said. “My two daughters and their daughters come. We get up really early and we go shopping.”
She added: “It’s very strange. The parking lot, there’s hardly any cars. There’s hardly anybody here. But that’s OK because we’re still having a great time.”
Janeen Hutchinson of Kansas City, who also was shopping for deals at Ward Parkway Center, likes the “Christmas atmosphere” on Black Friday.
“I enjoy seeing the different things people like to buy and just actually telling them how to shop for all the bargains and helping them find the bargains as much as I can,” Hutchinson said.
The Target store just west of Metro North Shopping Center had a half empty parking lot Friday morning, although some shoppers said they had also been there on Thursday night, when it was packed with people looking for bargains on electronics.
Jerry Devaney of Kansas City, North, said he got a good deal Thursday night on Blu-ray items, and he returned Friday for more gifts for his grandchildren.
Neighboring retailer Kohl’s was busy and bustling Friday morning, with robust lines at the cash registers.
Shoppers John and Tracy Cervantes were carrying bags filled with wrapping paper, toys, ornaments and an air mattress for house guests. John Cervantes works in construction and feels a bit more confident about the economy.
“It’s coming back slowly,” he said.
A recent Gallup poll of 1,019 consumers projected that Americans would spend $720 on gifts this year on average, up slightly from the $704 estimated in 2013, barring a major economic crisis or another Snowmageddon. U.S. retail sales growth for November and December would still barely hit the 14-year average of 3.1 percent, Gallup said.
Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst at Edward Jones & Co., said improved economic trends and lower gas prices were helping spur sales.
“All the economic data is better than it was this time last year,” Yarbrough said. “The consumer seems to be in a better mood or consumer sentiment is better, and the consumer should have more cash.”