Derrell and Yolanda Kittrell found themselves among few shoppers in the Best Buy in Lutherville for a 5 a.m. opening on Black Friday, and said deals on a TV and MacBook made the early hour worth the trip.
But the Gwynn Oak couple ended up buying a smaller TV after the larger one they’d seen advertised was gone, sold out already online. Had they known, they probably wouldn’t have made the trip, and acknowledged it’s likely their last one to a store this holiday season.
“We crossed off everything on our list for now,” said Yolanda Kittrell, a client support manager for a moving company. “Everything else will be online.”
As Baltimore-area shoppers headed out early the day after Thanksgiving, long lines were the exception and jammed stores appeared to be a thing of Black Fridays past. Retailers sought to minimize crowds for safety due to the coronavirus pandemic, opting to instead spread discounts over several weeks and heavily promote online shopping. Those who did go to stores in person were met with hand sanitizing stations and reminders to wear masks.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” said Nicole Might, a nonprofit fundraiser from Sparrows Point. “I wasn’t sure if people would stay away because of everything, or if it would be normal.”
Might and her friend Rebecca Williamson, who had filled a cart with toys while shopping in Kohl’s in Timonium, kept their 18-year-long tradition of heading out for Black Friday. But this year brought along hand sanitizer, masks and other adjustments.
“We definitely modified our original plans,” said Williamson, a nurse. “We’ll only do a couple of stores, versus going out for the entire day.”
Might added: “We got here early hoping that not a lot of people would be here, and then we’ll make our way home and finish online.”
Black Friday, so named as the day retailers once counted on to put sales for the year in the black, or turn a profit, has lost some significance even before the pandemic. The shift came as stores began to open on Thanksgiving and more people shopped online.
This year, with the coronavirus surging in Maryland and elsewhere across the U.S., most retailers stayed shut for Thanksgiving and opened as early as 5 a.m. Friday. But the pandemic also has accelerated online buying, which is expected to account for a record share of holiday spending this year.
Online spending on Thanksgiving Day hit a new high this year, jumping more than 21% compared with last Thanksgiving, with $5.1 billion in spending, according to a report out Friday by Adobe Analytics, a web marketing and analytics business.
“While yesterday was a record-breaking Thanksgiving Day … it didn’t come with the kind of aggressive growth rate we’ve seen with the start of the pandemic,” said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights. “Heavy discounts and aggressive promotions starting in early November succeeded at getting consumers to open their wallets earlier.”
Adobe expects Friday will end up as one of the two largest online shopping days ever, with online sales for the day expected to hit $8.9 billion, a 20% jump over last year.
“People are still spending, but they’ll be doing it differently from years past,” said Stephanie Cegielski, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. “The majority of shopping will take place online this year” during the Black Friday weekend.
“For a lot of people, this is a time to kick off the holiday season and be out and spend time with family and friends, and people will still do that, but safety is the number one concern for those deciding whether to go out and where to go,” she said.
A survey the group released earlier this week showed that 69% of consumers planned to spend money in physical stores, down from 84% during the kickoff weekend last year.
The accelerated shift to online spending has prompted many smaller retailers to quickly move to launch or improve websites, she said.
“Even small businesses, which are crucial to communities and struggling the most, are trying to figure out ways to meet the consumer both online and in person,”Cegielski said. Meanwhile, “a lot of retailers have figured out how to use their stores as fulfillment centers, taking merchandise from large distribution centers and pulling from local stores to serve that market area.”
The National Retail Federation expects overall sales for November and December to increase between 3.6% to 5.2%, both online and in stores. Holiday season sales have grown, on average, 3.5% over the past five years, the retail group said. The group expects much greater growth for online sales for the season, a jump of between 20% and 30%.
Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay said retailers have invested billions in safety measures amid the health crisis.
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Due to the pandemic, some consumers have spent less than they normally would on travel, dining out or commuting and are more willing to spend during the holidays, experts said.
“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” Jack Kleinhenz, federation chief economist, said in a statement. “Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago.”
Emmett Parham, a 23-year-old East Baltimore resident, said he got a good deal on a smart TV at Walmart but was still hunting Friday for the hard-to-find PlayStation 5, Sony’s newest gaming console. GameStop stores said all its locations would have at least two PlayStation 5 and two Xbox Series X consoles when stores opened, and some shoppers around the country camped out on Thanksgiving for a chance at one, according to news reports.
“They have a lot of those on sale, but it was out of stock online, so I tried to come [to Walmart] and get it, but they didn’t have any,” Parham said.
Glorietta Friend was able to find what she was looking for at Walmart. On Friday morning, the Hamilton resident left the Towson store with her 14-year-old son, Isiah, and a new artificial Christmas tree.