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Black Friday sees sluggish start as more US consumers shop online | Business

The frenzy associated with Black Friday shopping was missing this year as US retailers offered earlier discounts and more consumers shopped online, though spot checks around the country showed traffic picked up after a sluggish morning.

“It’s slow now because we had a big, big rush last night,” said Target electronics salesman Evan Houser, 22, in Chicago.

Black Friday remains important for holiday shopping but its relevance is fading amid early promotions, with six fewer sales days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That has pulled spending forward. More than half of consumers polled by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the first week of November had begun making purchases.

“We’ve seen many merchants start their promotions pretty much right after the trick-or-treaters have gone to bed,” said Lauren Bitar, head of retail consulting at analytics firm RetailNext.

Visits to retailers showed more shoppers after a sluggish start on Friday, but frantic crowds were nowhere to be seen.

“We tend to have more deals in-store so people come in rather than go online … the only problem today is we didn’t expect how slow it would be,” said Mariah Berry, 22, a trainee supervisor at a Chicago Uniqlo.

While store traffic still remains an important indicator, a lot of Black Friday shopping now happens online. Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 US online retailers, estimates $7.5bn in online sales for Black Friday, up 20.5%.

US online sales on Thanksgiving day jumped 17% to $4.1bn, according to Salesforce. Global online revenue rose ever faster.

Companies including Walmart, Target, Costco and Best Buy have bulked up their online presence, deliveries and fast in-store pickups to attract customers.

Specialty apparel retailers Gap, Victoria’s Secret-owner L Brands and department stores Macy’s and Kohl’s have slumped as they struggle to lure shoppers to malls and away from online giants like Amazon.

Some shoppers worried that Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports would make holiday shopping more expensive, though many large retailers have not raised prices to protect margins.

“There were definitely some concerns about prices due to what we see in the news about the trade war, but I haven’t seen the impact yet,” said Jay Smith, 28, who was shopping for clothes and toys at a Macy’s in Pentagon City, Virginia.

To keep foot traffic flowing, retailers at Hudson Yards in New York are offering “doorbuster” deals, said Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research. At Tapestry’s Coach, a $300 handbag was $99 until noon.

Other shoppers were skeptical about how good the deals really were.

“I will come to the mall, look at prices and go back and check them online,” said Dick Doyle, 76, who was at a Modell’s Sporting Goods in Virginia, while his wife was next door at Nordstrom Rack