Black Friday Sees Fewer Shoppers in Stores as Spending Moves Online

November 29, 2019 Updated: November 29, 2019

Fewer people lined up outside stores as Black Friday shopping kicked off, suggesting early discounts offered by retail chains and a surge in online buying may have taken the shine off America’s biggest shopping day.

Spot checks on the ground showed there were fewer shoppers this year as retail chains started offering discounts earlier than usual to make up for a shorter holiday season this year.

“I think there were some good deals but overall the discounts are similar to what we have seen in the past,” said Jay Smith, 28, who was shopping at a Macy’s in Pentagon City to buy clothes and toys for her family.

While store traffic still remains an important indicator, a lot of shopping during Thanksgiving and Black Friday now happens online. Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, estimates $7.5 billion in sales for Black Friday online, a growth of over 20.5% year-over-year.

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A caution tape is seen by the entrance to a line during a sales event on Thanksgiving day at Walmart in Westbury, N.Y., on Nov. 28, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Online sales on Thanksgiving Day alone jumped 17% to $4.1 billion in the United States, according to data from Salesforce. Global online revenue rose 24% to $20 billion.

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

While Black Friday still matters, its relevance is fading as the holiday shopping season now begins the week before Halloween and stretches to Christmas Eve with retailers offering deep discounts throughout the season.

The condensed shopping season this year accelerated early promotions and spending. Retailers have six fewer days to make sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day this year.

That has pulled spending into early November—more than half of consumers polled by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the first week of this month had already begun making purchases. On average, Americans had already completed almost a quarter of their shopping, the most in the history of NRF’s surveys.

A shopping cart is filled with a television
A shopping cart is filled with a television during a sales event on Thanksgiving day at Target in Westbury, N.Y., on Nov. 28, 2019. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

“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.

Sales made prior to Thanksgiving and Black Friday could erode “the spike that we have seen in sales dollars historically,” Bitar said.

“It’s slow now because we had a big, big rush last night,” Target electronics salesman Evan Houser, 22, said. Houser added the downtown Chicago store’s doorbuster product—a 65-inch TV for $279.99—had sold out about 20 minutes after opening on Thanksgiving.

By Melissa Fares and Nandita Bose

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