The day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as “Black Friday”, traditionally marks the beginning of the US holiday shopping season. Retailers host “doorbuster” discounts offering 50 per cent or more off items including electronics, kitchen gadgets and toys, prompting customers to queue for blocks.
But a shift to online shopping and lingering fears over Covid-19 have kept customers away from stores, leading to thinned-out crowds this Black Friday. Inflation and higher supply chain costs have also forced retailers to cut back on discounts and increase prices.
Televisions will have the highest increase in cost, up 17 per cent from last year, USA Today reported.
Still, early queues were expected as some shoppers feared the supply chain logjam would prevent them from securing their holiday gifts. Retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target opened as early as 5am local time.
Brick-and-mortar stores have opted to merge online and in-person shopping by setting aside more floor space and workers for kerbside pickup.
Drive-through shopping increased 92 per cent in November compared to 2019, reported Adobe Digital Economy Index, which showed 23 per cent of online orders on November 23 were for kerbside pickup.
Walmart hired an extra 150,000 workers for the holidays to allow for this trend while Target added more than 18,000 “drive-up” parking spaces, more than double the spots reported last year.
Target has also made an early start on Cyber Monday, announcing a two-day “cyber deals” sale that will run on its mobile app and website on Sunday and Monday.
Data from online analytics company Adobe show that Americans had already done a vast amount of holiday shopping before Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Consumers in the US spent $72.2 billion from November 1 through November 23 —— about 20 per cent more than last year. Adobe lead insights analyst Vivek Pandya credited shortage fears as the reason why so many consumers got an early jump on their shopping.
US President Joe Biden last week said that co-ordination between the government and private companies would keep shelves fully stocked for the holiday season.
“That's good news for those mums and dads worried about whether their Christmas gifts will be available. It goes for everything from bicycles to ice skates,” Mr Biden said.
As of November 23, out-of-stock messages in stores had already risen 8 per cent versus the prior week, Adobe reported. Through most of November, out-of-stock messages were up 261 per cent versus 2019.
Electronics — which are in short supply due to a chip shortage — had the highest out-of-stock levels.
Reuters contributed to this report