U.S. stores offered deep discounts, entertainment and free gifts to draw bargain hunters on Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, but some shoppers said they were just eyeing goods, reserving their cash for online purchases. A sharp rise in online sales made the overall picture more positive for traditional retailers expanding beyond brick-and-mortar, sending their shares higher. Stores had also carefully managed inventory, hoping to ward off any post-holiday liquidation that would weigh on profits.
There was little of the over-the-top frenzy that had been a hallmark of Black Friday in years past, and some stores appeared to be getting creative with gimmicks beyond heavy discounts. But signs pointing to muted in-store sales - fewer cars in mall parking lots, shoppers leaving with no purchases - do not portend a weak holiday season as U.S. consumers are expected to spend more overall, analysts and industry executives said.
Black Friday sales were off to a strong start online, at $640 million of 10 a.m. EST, according to Adobe Analytics, up 18.4 percent from a year ago. On Thanksgiving Day, U.S. shoppers spent more than $2.87 billion online.
Adobe forecast online Black Friday sales of $5 billion, which would be a record high. Online retailers will rake in an additional $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday, Adobe said. Adobe measures 80 percent of online transactions at the largest 100 U.S. web retailers.
Macy’s and JC Penney ordered and managed inventory better this time, according to Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resources Group, a consultancy with seven researchers out in the field. “The turnout this morning has been relatively slow but it is still the best we have seen in three years. We expect it to pick up as the day progresses,” Flickinger said, citing improving consumer confidence, a strong job market and healthy housing prices.
In short: More people picked up deals online and the traditional Black Friday rush was split by stores opening the night before.