Mark Chappelle of Union Bridge was loading his bags of purchases in his trunk at TownMall of Westminster when he noted how slow and unusual his Black Friday shopping has been after visiting four different stores.
He said around 10 a.m. on Friday, Boscov’s was well staffed and had 25- and 50% off sales. But he was surprised “how few people are around today.”
Stores in Carroll County did not necessarily see the swarm of people Black Friday traditionally lures. Instead, it looked like a normal day of shopping, according to consumers.
The TownMall of Westminster had plenty of parking spaces to choose from on Friday. Few people were going in and out of the stores and the traffic surrounding the circle was calm.
Sherrie Johnson, a manager at Belk, said the department store once always had lines outside the store on Black Friday. But not this year. They would wait for the free gift cards handed out to in-person shoppers. However, corporate changed the policy this year and gave out Bounce Back coupons this week instead, Johnson said, which offers discounts at a price that matches what a customer spends.
The store opened at 7 a.m. and Johnson said the Westminster Belk had few customers at the time. The afternoon and late evening are when the store is usually bustling.
This year, the store was closed to the public on Thanksgiving. Employees spent 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. to organize items for customers who paid for at-home shipping. The store also offers curbside pick-up. And most of the items were at least 65% off that day.
The manager said items in home store section, like bedding, pillow and towels, were popular this season and she isn’t sure why. She said other popular items were Amazon Fire Sticks, Air Fryers, Toastmasters and fragrance sets.
“Traffic is down, but when they’re in the store, our conversion is up,” Johnson said. “So, the people coming in are spending more.”
One of the initiatives Belk offered for the holiday season is Merry Jingle. It’s when the corporate office picks one online customer a day for 24 days to give them a gift card worth more than the online purchase. Johnson said one winner had a $138 purchase and was given a $150 gift card.
Mike McMullin, president of Carroll County’s Chamber of Commerce, said shoppers should spend their Black Friday money at small businesses.
“When you shop local, when you keep money local, you’re giving to someone, I think, who’s motivated,” he said.
He said the customer service isn’t the same when shopping online. McMullen said he knows ordering from Amazon is easy, especially during a pandemic. However, small business owners “desperately need the loyalty of customers to help them survive during this historic time,” he said during a phone interview on Wednesday.
McMullin went to Bowman’s Home and Garden Friday morning. Customers were tying trees on the roofs of cars while staff helped carry plants and purchases to people in the parking lot.
Renee Rogers, an assistant store manager, said they have been busy all weekend. “Especially outside with our Christmas trees,” she said.
When customers purchase a live tree they receive a gift card of the same value to spend in January through March, she said. Items in the gift shop are buy one, get one free and artificial trees are 25% off.
Rogers said they offer “things you can’t get from a Walmart or Target or even Michael’s.”
She said she’s seen a lot of new customers this year and gardening has increased recently, which could be due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the toll the virus has taken on small businesses, agriculture stores have been able to stay open, she said.
People trust their own food more than others, more people are landscaping and more children are learning how to garden, she said.
Although the store has thrived, its Black Fridays aren’t the same.
“It’s calmer than what it used to be,” Beckie Rickell, a 48-year employee said.
She said people used to sit in the parking lot waiting for the store to open. She attributes the slow-down to the bigger stores that came about throughout the years.
“But it’s definitely still Black Friday,” she said.
Customers on Friday said Black Friday seemed like a typical shopping day for them.
Pam Holbrook of Westminster said Target was not crowded and well stocked. She thought the clothes would “be more picked over.”
Holbrook was accompanied by 11-year-old Scarlett Arnold, visiting from Kentucky, who said the lines were short and “there’s a lot of cashiers open.” She also noticed a lot of clothes were only $5.
The Walmart in Hampstead had plenty of parking spaces left around noon. Each cashier line had about one or two people in it, aside from self-checkout, which also had a short wait.
Tony Antony of Hampstead said his shopping experience at the Supercenter was normal.
“I got everything I was searching for,” he said while loading groceries in his trunk.
Antony, who works in the information technology field, said he uses Amazon when he’s hunting for technology purchases.
Alicia Jeffers of Owings Mills said she shops online for appliances and toys.
“I’m not really looking for anything. I’m here with my in-laws,” she said outside of the Kohl’s in Eldersburg.
Brenda Jeffers of Clayton, Del., who just walked out of the store, said there were good deals but it was like a normal day.
“There wasn’t no hustle and bustle,” she said.