Black Friday kicks off US shopping season
Americans welcomed the chance to start Black Friday shopping earlier than ever in the biggest retail rush of the year, but some raised doubts over whether discounts were as generous as last year or better than they could get online.
The hordes seeking “door buster” bargains included a mix of cash-strapped consumers, sharp-elbowed competitive shoppers and those who enjoy the camaraderie of the queues, but analysts forecast only modest sales growth from 2011.
Terry Lundgren, chief executive of Macy’s, said of his department stores: “I think [sales] will be similar to last year for this weekend.”
Yesterday morning in Manhattan, a spa employee, Isaura, who had started shopping at 6am, was lugging bags from Old Navy, Gap and Victoria’s Secret as she perused the clothes at JC Penney, a department store struggling to reform.
She had spent about $350 – in what she called a “very bad” economy – but said: “You saved more money last year. With the same money I spent now I bought more things. This year I don’t feel the savings.”
While stores tried to outdo each other with bargain advertisements, Michael Appel of AlixPartners, a consultancy, said it would not be a surprise to find smaller discounts than in 2011 as cautious retailers had lean inventories for the entire holiday season.
“They don’t have a lot of extra stock to sell, so, on the top items, they don’t want to give them away because they may run out of stock,” he said. “They’re making that calculation.”
Black Friday comes towards the end of a strong year for retail stocks with the SP retail index rallying 28 per cent so far – more than double the 12 per cent rise in the broader market.
The first store openings last year were at midnight on the cusp of Black Friday. By contrast, Walmart, Toys “R” Us and Sears this year opened at 8pm on Thanksgiving night in an effort to grab market share.
Walmart said it saw larger crowds than at its midnight opening last year, but it also faced protests at some stores from labour activists, who accused it of ruining employees’ Thanksgivings by opening early.
At Target’s big box store in Brooklyn, which opened at 9pm on Thursday, Gina Flower said she wanted a coffee-maker and would then head next door to Best Buy, which opened at midnight, for a Toshiba television priced at $179 (€138). She had concluded that equally good deals were available online, but had brought her two teenage daughters for the experience. “People want the thrill of coming to see things. But you’re better off letting your fingers do the walking on the internet.”
While no single product dominated Black Friday, shoppers at Target rushed past everything else to 50-inch Westinghouse flatscreen televisions – going for $350 – which they dragged across the floor, lugged on shoulders or pushed precariously in petite trolleys.
Outside with his wife and two televisions, two air mattresses and some crockery, Raul Gutierrez said he was glad to have been able to finish his shopping early. “Now we have the day free tomorrow . . . You pick your poison,” he said.
‘They’re really nuts’
At Toys R Us in Times Square, Yamid Cala, a Colombian tourist, walked away with the PlayStation 3 and other gadgets he had identified before he left home in Bogotá. “It’s crazy. They’re really nuts, the queues,” he said of his first Black Friday. “But it’s a great experience.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012