Shoppers out in the early hours on Black Friday roamed stores in Southern California that they say were emptier than in years past.
At 4 a.m. at a Target in Duarte, Michael Chung, 40, and his three children said many of the store’s doorbuster items were still in stock. Last year, he recalled, many already had sold out by that predawn hour.
“There’s less people, and you don’t feel the holiday spirit,” said the seven-year veteran of Black Friday sales. “It’s scary. It doesn’t feel like Black Friday. This year is very weird.”
For retailers, a good start over the Black Friday weekend could signal a healthy holiday season, a crucial period that can account for as much as 40% of annual revenue.
But Black Friday has evolved as retailers push promotions into Thursday and more shoppers opt to spend online — changing what once was a pivotal barometer of the holiday shopping season into a hefty sales day that isn’t necessarily indicative of the coming weeks.
“Black Friday is not as huge as it once was because the business has been spread out more,” said David Brandon, chief executive of Toys R Us. It used to be “the critical day,” he added. “Now it is just a very important day.”
Unlike in decades past, Black Friday has failed in the past five years to be a good predictor of how retailers fare in November and December, said Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group. Last year, nearly 40% of shoppers surveyed finished most their Christmas shopping on Black Friday, instead of spreading their spending into the weeks before Christmas, he said. On Friday morning, the multigenerational shopping groups — with grandparents, parents and kids at the malls together — also were missing in action.
“That multigenerational tradition for some families is 50, 60 years in the making,” Beemer said. “They drive about 25% of mall sales on Black Friday. If they don’t show up, mall retailers are going to see a significant decline in sales.”
The National Retail Federation predicts sales in November and December will grow 3.6% to $ 655.8 billion, up slightly from the same period in 2015.
Many customers may have opted to skip the hassle of brick-and-mortar stores to shop online instead.
On Thursday, Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell said the retailer’s website was enjoying double-digit sales and traffic growth compared with a year ago, although he said it was too early to tell what impact that would have on in-store sales.
Gilbert Diaz, store manager at Target in Eagle Rock, said several customers made purchases online on Thanksgiving Day and opted to pick up those items in store that night instead of waiting for shipping. “That’s new for us,” Diaz said. “They were picking up right when the store opened.”
In recent years, the power of Black Friday as the kickoff to the holiday shopping season has been diluted by retailers increasingly rolling out deals in October and November. At the Glendale Galleria, crowds seemed thinner than in years past, although the people who did show up bought more, according to Brent Schoenbaum, a partner in the retail practice at Deloitte.
Analysts said it remains to be seen how the overall holiday season pans out.
“It’s a long season,” said Charlie O’Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. He noted that the two Saturdays before Christmas, which falls on a Sunday this year, will be “big days” for retailers.
O’Shea predicts that the shoppers will spend more this year, but said that many people are still reluctant to spend.
“Consumers are still a little skittish about a lot of things,” he said. “The whole country seems like it’s deal-focused.”
Americans, on average, plan to spend $ 785 on Christmas gifts this year, on par with recent years but still significantly below record highs of as much as $ 900 before the Great Recession.
At Wal-Mart in Duarte, Ray Wade, who worked at the store for seven years, said doorbuster deals that rolled out Thursday and the growing trend toward online shopping had reduced the crowds on Friday.
“There’s no point for people to come in the mornings,” he said. “People are picking at scraps.” Some of the really hot doorbuster items, such as a 55-inch Phillips television for $ 268, sold out quickly on Thanksgiving night, he said.
Some Shoppers, such as business manager Rosa Grimes also noticed that the promotions weren’t as great as they used to be at South Coast Plaza.
Grimes, 48, had a sleepover with her two sisters on Thanksgiving night — a tradition now in its 15th year. They woke up together at 5 a.m. and hit the mall ready to shop.
“The longest we’ve been here has been 16 hours, but we’re not doing that today,” the Culver City resident said with a laugh. “It used to be that when you got up this early and you came into the mall, there were great deals. Each year, the deals aren’t as spectacular as the year before.”
But there were still those who enthusiastically dive into the Black Friday madness.
At a Toys R Us in Ontario, Jose Garcia’s shopping cart was overflowing with colorful stuffed animals, toys and board games as he walked to the checkout aisle.
The Fontana resident, who works at a transportation warehouse, has a spending budget of about $ 1,000 this Black Friday, similar to last year. He said his steady earnings and stable job contributed to his decision to spend that much this holiday season.
By late morning, Garcia already had had a full day of shopping. He hit up Best Buy at 5 a.m. and then trekked to Home Depot and Target.
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11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with analyst comments and additional reporting from retailers in Eagle Rock, Glendale and Ontario.
8:10 a.m.: This article was updated with additional reporting from South Coast Plaza.
10:29 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comment from retailers, analysts and shoppers.
This article was originally published at 7:10 a.m.