NEW YORK: American consumers arrived en masse in stores - and online - on Friday (Nov 24) for the annual "Black Friday shopping extravaganza that opens the US holiday shopping season.
Held the day after Thanksgiving, a period when schools are out and many offices are closed, Black Friday has evolved over the years into a massive shopping occasion known for "doorbuster" sales and other promotions to lure consumers into stores.
Retailers have also added a plethora of discounts online starting on Thanksgiving Day, accelerating on Black Friday and culminating on "Cyber Monday" just after the weekend. That has inevitably dented some of the consumer traffic at brick-and-mortar stores, although tens of millions were still expected to brave the crowds.
Those with online Black Friday promotions included the Rockettes dancing group, the New Yorker magazine and President Donald Trump's campaign, which offered 30 per cent discounts on all items, including the iconic red "Make America Great Again" baseball caps.
According to a survey by accounting firm Deloitte, 54 per cent plan to conduct a majority of their holiday shopping in December or January, while 26 per cent plan to do it in the period between Black Friday and "Cyber Monday," and 20 per cent will complete most of it in the period before Thanksgiving.
For the first time since Deloitte began conducting the survey 32 years ago, consumers expect to spend a majority of their funds (51 per cent) online compared with in-store (42 per cent), with seven per cent going to catalogue or other types of purchases.
"Shoppers flock to phones," read the front-page headline of Friday's Wall Street Journal.
While the estimates vary as far as what share online comprises of overall sales, there is little debate about the broader trend.
"The one thing that is clear is that more and more is being bought online," said Chris Christopher, executive director of IHS Markit, which expects online sales to account for 18.3 per cent of overall holiday sales, up from 16.8 per cent last year.
The IHS figures are based on US Census spending patterns and includes groceries, among other categories,
Amazon on Friday announced a slew of offerings for Cyber Monday, including discounts on toys, televisions, fashion and Amazon devices such as the Echo programme, which can link to the Alexa Voice Service. Customers last year ordered more than 64 million goods on Cyber Monday, 740 items per second, Amazon said in a news release.
BOOKING APPOINTMENT WITH SANTA
Faced with the rising popularity of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers are redoubling efforts to try to draw consumers into stores. Macy's, for the first time, began booking advanced reservations for visits with Santa Claus, a response to time-strapped parents.
"Santa's a popular guy, so the wait times to meet him have been quite long in previous years," Macy's says on its website.
"New this year, Santaland is by reservation only ... Make your free booking right here," reads the website, adding, "Time slots are subject to availability."
Retail experts are generally upbeat about the overall prospects for this year's holiday shopping performance. Unemployment stands at just 4.1 per cent, US growth stands at about three percent and US stock markets are in record range.
Consumers surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they expect an average spend of US$967.13 this season, up 3.4 per cent compared with the average in the year-ago survey.