Head start on deals tempers Black Friday frenzy

  • Jefrey Wojtisek sits on the floor as he awaits for the Apple store to open their doors on Black Friday at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pa. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

NEW YORK — Black Friday enthusiasts woke up before dawn and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls in search of hot deals, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But the ever-growing popularity of online shopping and holiday discounts that started weeks earlier dampened the frenzy. This year, more people got a head start on gift-hunting, lured by deals from retailers trying to compensate for the shorter season.

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The shopping season is the shortest since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the last Thursday in November — the latest possible date it could be.

Shoppers up since the wee hours slept in chairs at Nashville’s Opry Mills mall, known for its outlet stores. Outside, deal-seekers were still fighting for parking spots by midmorning.

Haley Wright left Alabama at 4 a.m. to arrive at the Tennessee mall by 7 a.m. She makes the annual trip because she says the stores offer better deals and a more fun environment than the shops back home. “I let my husband do the online shopping; I do Black Friday,” she said.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, baked the shorter season into its forecast, but it says the real drivers will be the job market.

It forecasts that holiday sales will rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, an increase from the disappointing 2.1% growth in the November and December 2018 period that came well short of the group’s prediction.

NRF expects online and catalog sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 11% and 14% for the holiday period.

Last year’s sales were hurt by turmoil over the White House trade policy with China and a delay in data collection because of a government shutdown.

Marshal Cohen, analyst at market research firm NPD Group Inc., says he doesn’t believe a shorter season will affect overall sales, but early discounts will likely diminish Black Friday’s impact. In terms of the busiest day of the year, it will be a toss-up between Black Friday and the last Saturday before Christmas.

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More than half of consumers started their holiday shopping early this year, and nearly a quarter of purchases have already been made, according to the annual survey released by the NRF and Prosper Insights &Analytics.

Adobe Analytics predicts a loss of $1 billion in online revenue from a shortened season. Still, it expects online sales will reach $143.7 billion, up 14.1% from last year’s holiday season.

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