But analysts and industry experts warn that Black Friday sales could be down this year. Earlier and sharper sales – although useful for strategic shoppers – hurting retailers suffering from overstocked inventory and rising labor costs.
Meanwhile, consumers are showing signs of fatigue after dealing with decades of high inflation for much of the year. They got a bit of a reprieve in October: Prices rose 7.7 percent from a year earlier, according to federal data released earlier this month. While still well above normal, it was lower than analysts had expected. Polls show that even wealthier Americans feel squeezed. They still buy, but choose cheaper options.
Inflation can steal Christmas, but shoppers are finding ways around it
“We’re in a unique economic situation — inflation is at a 40-year high, and many families’ budgets are being squeezed on all fronts,” said Jie Zhang, a marketing professor at the University of Maryland. “So there’s not much incentive to open wallets this holiday shopping season.”
Third-quarter financial results, consumer surveys and retail sales data provide a look at how Black Friday might play out. Last week, the Census Bureau reported that retail sales rose 1.3 percent in October. However, most of these expenses were directed towards necessities such as food and gasoline. Americans also continued to push back on technology and home appliances.
These numbers are important to economists and policymakers because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Cooling demand raises fears of recession. At the same time, the Federal Reserve is trying to lower prices by raising interest rates. The labor market remained strong, which helped consumers continue to spend.
In its holiday forecast, the National Retail Federation said sales will increase 6 to 8 percent across all categories, while digital purchases will increase 10 to 12 percent. Estimates are not adjusted for inflation. The NRF said the average shopper will spend $832.84 on gifts and holiday items, which is in line with the 10-year average.
Over the past few years, the novelty of Black Friday, which got its name because a rush of sales can change sellers’ books from red to black, has slowly worn off.
The prime shopping day was once synonymous with door deals and long lines until dawn. Sunil Singh, 61, looked forward to Black Friday – not just for the steep discounts on tech gadgets, but also because it meant spending time with his son. The two had a tradition of lining up before sunrise outside Best Buy in the San Francisco Bay Area ahead of their opening.
“Waking up at 4 a.m., standing in line, drinking hot cider and coffee in line, waiting for two hours, talking to people was a really fun time,” said Singh, of Mountain View, Calif. .
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 ahead. So, it’s not so meaningful anymore.”
“It has lost its novelty,” Singh added.
How to avoid holiday shopping
The rise of e-commerce has fragmented the Black Friday shopping experience. Harley Finkelstein, president of e-commerce platform Shopify, said retailers are making it easier than ever for people to shop on their websites, apps and in-store.
“I think Black Friday, Cyber Monday [have] it kind of turned from a weekend to a season,” Finkelstein added. “And I think consumers like that because it means they can do more of their shopping earlier.”
Shoppers are also increasingly relying on social media: a global survey by the IBM Business Value Institute in partnership with the National Retail Federation found that 6 in 10 shoppers get “inspiration and ideas” from TikTok, Instagram and other sites. Platforms enable a seamless shopping experience, and younger demographics are spending more time on apps, brands and companies, bringing their products to them.
Shawn Grain Carter, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said retailers are still taking steps to get people back into stores.
“If you go into a brick-and-mortar store, they often have extra door sales because they’re trying to manage traffic,” he said, adding that after years of covid fears and crowd restrictions, shoppers are eager to return to stores. “The pandemic has made more consumers realize that they want human connection and connection.”