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Black Friday habits have shifted, but Baltimore-area shoppers seek bargains and hold on to traditions

From left, Debbie Dorsch and Lindsay Glorioso, both of Towson, shop at Becket Hitch in Greenspring Station on Black Friday.

To some Baltimore-area shoppers, the hallmarks of past Black Fridays such as long lines, jammed aisles and countdowns to doorbuster deals seemed a distant memory on Friday.

Economic concerns and stretched-out retail promotions have altered day-after-Thanksgiving shopping patterns. So have increased online buying and stay-at-home habits formed during the pandemic.

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“This is definitely not like the early 2000s, with wraparound lines and all the craziness,” said Christine Gower, a mental health therapist from White Marsh. “It’s actually way more relaxed this year.”

With elevated prices for food, rent, gasoline and other essentials, many people were reluctant to spend unless there was a big sale. Shoppers were being more selective, dipping more into savings and turning to “buy now, pay later” installment services. Some were also running up their credit cards at a time when the Federal Reserve is hiking rates to cool the U.S. economy.

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Still, plenty of consumers ventured out, as retailers offered new Black Friday discounts to entice consumers weighed down by inflation.

Some went seeking specific bargains or just because of tradition. Others hoped crowds would be thinner and the pace more leisurely. Most stores and shopping centers had reversed course and remained closed on Thanksgiving, as they did during the pandemic. Many opened earlier than usual Friday to light customer traffic.

Gower and Cortrell Armwood stopped in Target in White Marsh, snapping up nearly two dozen toys in a buy-one-get-one-half-off deal. Gower said the gifts are for kids in the family and for a Secret Santa exchange for an adopted family. The pair had trekked from Best Buy to Old Navy to Bath & Body Works and were heading to White Marsh Mall.

“I always liked Black Friday,” Gower said. “I’ve always loved the idea of waking up at 5 a.m., going to the store, the nostalgia of it.”

At Walmart in Rosedale, there were no lines and plenty of cashiers at checkout. Lenora Pearson stood alone in the toy department, just starting her shopping for the season. On her list: several gifts each for each of nine grandchildren, ages 11 months to 18 years.

“My husband and I, that’s what we do,” said Pearson, a social worker who said she prefers seeing merchandise in-person to buying online. “I like the start of the Christmas season. I can’t shop before Black Friday.”

Catherine Whalen, of Lutherville, shops at Becket Hitch in Greenspring Station on Black Friday.

Finksburg resident Janet Garman wanted to support a small, local business on Black Friday. With daughters Sydney, 20, and Kylie, 18, she browsed in Becket Hitch in Lutherville’s Greenspring Station. The home goods, décor and apparel boutique, where Kylie Garman shopped for dresses for school, lured customers with a $10 tote bag deal that offered 20% off goods placed in the bag.

“We’re just browsing. It’s fun. It’s a little bit of a tradition,” said Janet Garman, who said they prefer the unique finds available at independent retailers.

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“We always wake up and we go shopping early in the morning, it gives us something to look forward to after Thanksgiving’s over,” her daughter, Sydney, added.

About 166 million people are expected to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, according to a survey released Nov. 17 by the National Retail Federation. That estimate is nearly 8 million more people than last year.

But total holiday sales during November and December are expected to slow to a 6% to 8% increase over last year, to between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion, the retail group said. Last year’s holiday sales shattered previous records, jumping 13.5%.

Though brick-and-mortar stores mostly shut down Thursday, spending continued online. Consumers spent a record $5.29 billion on Thanksgiving, up nearly 3 percent from the holiday last year, lured by big discounts in categories such as toys and electronics, according to Adobe Analytics data.

Sheila Diggs, 55, went to a Walmart in Mount Airy early Friday looking for a deal on a coffee maker and to see what else was in the aisles. She said her family is being more cautious about their holiday spending this year. Usually, all the adults in the family would exchange gifts. But this year, everyone is drawing names and selecting one person, because things cost so much more, she said.

“Everything’s going up but your paycheck,” said Diggs, who manages medical records at a local hospital.

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This year’s trends are a contrast from a year ago, when consumers were buying early out of fear of not getting what they needed amid supply network clogs. Stores didn’t have to discount much because they were struggling to bring in items.

Michael Myers, a sheet metal mechanic for an HVAC company, bought a computer early Friday at Best Buy to replace his older model.

“I’m out here looking for the better deals,” the Aberdeen resident said. “Everything is so costly, so expensive. You’ve got to watch what you’re doing, every penny the way inflation is.”

Ashley Macejka, a teacher from Middle River, said she always shops on Black Friday and tends to buy more in stores than online for her kids, a 6-year-old and 4-year-old twins. At Target she found a Barbie camper requested by one twin, and a discounted Rainbocorns Fairycorn Surprise egg. She bought it, only because of the discount.

“We’re definitely pared down a little bit more this year,” because of concerns over the economy, Macejka said. “It used to be more like … when you see stuff on sale you can’t pass it up. And now it’s like, I can pass it up. I can hold off.”

Christine Gower and Cortrell Armwood bought toys at Target in White Marsh, taking advantage of a Black Friday buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion. Gower said the gifts are for kids in her family and for a Secret Santa exchange for an adopted family.

Now that her kids are grown, with her youngest age 15, Lutherville resident Catherine Whalen said her family is “out of accumulation mode.” They plan to buy very little this year.

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“I would rather spend the money that we’ve saved up for the holidays on travel,” Whalen said.

Higher gas and grocery prices are expected to leave consumers with limited resources for holiday spending, said Michael Viscardi Jr., regional manager for the Baltimore/Chesapeake region of Wilmington Advisors, M&T Bank’s financial planners.

“The inflation that we’re seeing here will certainly play a role in what consumers are able to spend on goods during the holiday retail season,” Viscardi said. “You look at food and grocery prices and gas prices, that’s going to have a big impact on everybody.

Retailers have been working their way back from supply chain constraints they faced during the 2021 holiday season, when inventory shortages were made worse by pent-up demand. Many had pulled back on aggressive discounting, said Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research for Refinitiv, which tracks financial market data.

But this year, with inflation climbing to a 40-year high, demand has weakened.

“This has forced retailers to become more promotional to get rid of excess inventory,” Martis said.

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According to Refinitiv, 40% of U.S. retailers’ online merchandise was on sale going into the week of Black Friday.

Analysts consider the five-day Black Friday weekend, which includes the holiday and Cyber Monday, a key barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend, particularly this year. The two-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas represents about 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales.

Baltimore resident Dawn Roberts said she usually does all holiday shopping online. But she went with her mom, Felecia Roberts, to Walmart on Friday for a TV they’d seen advertised. They were disappointed to find none left in the store when they arrived, but then headed to Best Buy in White Marsh.

“We found something better than what we were actually going for,” said Dawn Roberts, as she loaded a TV from the electronics chain in her trunk before heading to work.

Consumers have been increasing their personal credit usage as spending also has picked up on services and travel coming out of the pandemic.

“It’s a bit of a double whammy, with people returning to pre-pandemic lifestyle and having the inflation in the goods that they’re purchasing as well,” said Viscardi, of M&T Bank. “So we’re starting to see credit usage start to increase again and people potentially getting overextended a little bit.”

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Approaching the holidays, he said it’s important for consumers to “certainly take advantage of specials and deals and discounts where they’re available, but try and commit to and live within a budget so that you don’t get overextended come credit card statements in January.”

Sun photographer Kim Hairston and The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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