Consumers put off online shopping to hunt in person Friday for bargains on toys, TVs and mobile phones, forming lines in the cold before sunrise at Baltimore area stores and filling mall parking lots by mid-day.
Black Friday kicked off holiday gift buying for some. But other shoppers returned to buy more after Thanksgiving Day trips to malls and big box stores. Retailers appeared on track to meet or even exceed calls for a robust start to the holiday shopping season, reports from store managers and analysts showed.
“Black Friday is off to a very good start,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData Retail, which put out a mid-morning survey showing that more than 28 percent of consumers nationally had started some Black Friday shopping, a boost of 1.4 percent over last year. “More people have already shopped than at this point last year, and their average spend is higher.”
Total spending for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and the weekend was on track to reach about $59.6 billion, a 5.7 percent increase over last year, the best growth rate since 2011. Saunders attributed growth to both a jump in spending per person and more people shopping the day after Thanksgiving.
Michela Demas, 22, and family members spent Thanksgiving night and Friday traipsing from store to store to store, buying laptops at Best Buy, Echo Dot voice-controlled devices at Target and clothing for half-off at Banana Republic. At the Mall in Columbia, they mapped out stops at Macy’s, Nordstrom, Express and JCPenney.
“This is our Super Bowl,” said Demas, a Burtonsville resident and college student. “We usually have a list of all the people we want to buy gifts for, and we get that out of the way, and then it’s just fun.”
At Target in Ellicott City, customers waited in chilly temperatures for up to an hour, then filed into the store for a 7 a.m. opening, rushing to line up for deals on iPhoneX mobile phones that came with free $150 store gift cards.
“No running, please,” store employees reminded shoppers as they guided them down aisles.
Sandy Keller, an emergency room nurse from Ellicott City, said she typically shops Thanksgiving night and Black Friday with her daughters, Nicole and Katlyn.
They lined up outside Target hoping to get in early and find a good deal on a TV and clothing. Next, they were headed for Towson Town Center. Even with deals available earlier and online, Keller and her daughters have come out each year for the past decade, hitting specialty stores such as Ulta cosmetics and mass merchants.
“You just get up and get started...mostly for the deals,” Keller said, “and just the tradition of being together, spending time together.”
Tene Wilson was disappointed to find the PlayStation4 she’d hoped to buy for her stepson sold out at Target, where she’d arrived more than an hour before the store opened. She’d had no luck finding one earlier online.
“We missed it,” the West Baltimore resident said. “It was sold out yesterday.”
But she spotted several shelves of rapidly disappearing hoverboards, and loaded two in her cart for her stepson and a nephew. Then she moved on to Nerf guns.
Amber Debow of Clarksville had just finished a night-shift job when she decided to shop Friday morning. The Clarksville mom stood surveying toys in Target, undecided.
“I just wanted to see if there was anything good to get my kids,” Debow said. “I’m not really sure what to get them this year.”
Her 6-year-old twin son and daughter girl and boy want “everything, everything. Everything they see on TV,” she said with a laugh. “So I don’t know, but they’re not getting all that.”
Retailers are vying for as much as $720 billion in expected spending this holiday season, a 4.8 percent jump over last year.
Though most national chains began aggressively pursuing customers weeks ago with deep discounts, stores still were counting on big crowds and heavy web traffic on Black Friday. The day has lost some of its significance in an age of online buying and Thanksgiving Day “door-busters,” but it remains a peak day for business.
Chains relied heavily on in-store only door-busters to lure customers Friday.
As many as 20 people at a time waited outside Pandora jewelry in the Mall in Columbia during a 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. door-buster special that offered 45 percent off purchases.
“We don’t have our final numbers yet, but it definitely was a big boost,” said Diane Meyer, owner of the Pandora franchise and two others in the area. “We definitely saw an increase in traffic. I expect our traffic was at least 50 or 60 percent higher than it was a year ago,” without a door-buster.
Traffic at the mall was strong in general on Thanksgiving night, when some stores opened from 6 p.m. to midnight and several stores offered specials, said Barbara Nicklas, the mall’s senior general manager. The center re-opened at 6 a.m. Friday.
“Today is the official start of the holiday season,” Nicklas said. On Thanksgiving, “We experienced strong traffic and I assume strong sales...Today has been great...At 10 a.m. we were going at full throttle.”
Mall stores had reported strong increases in traffic and sales over the past two weekends as well, Nicklas said, “so pre-holiday sales have gone well, and we expect the rest of the weekend to be equally strong.”
Spending appeared strong in the electronics category. At Best Buy in Elkridge, boxes of Samsung 55-inch LED TVs, on sale for $397, more that $100 off regular price, and other models filled floor space and drew crowds.
Elise Saik-Fitch came out early to the store with her husband, Jeffrey, to buy a new TV and browse dishwashers.
The Elkridge couple arrived around 6:45 a.m. and waited until the store opened at 8 a.m. Store employees handed out fliers to shoppers in line, guaranteeing the availability of door-buster items. Saik-Fitch said they saved about $200, and the wait in the cold was worth it.
“We dressed appropriately,” she said. “We had two pairs of pants on and two coats. It wasn’t so bad.”