But across the US, thousands of shoppers flocked to stores on Thanksgiving or woke up before dawn the next day to take part in this most famous ritual of American consumerism.
Shoppers spent their holiday lined up outside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, by 4pm on Thursday, and the crowd had swelled to 3,000 people by the time doors opened at 5am on Friday morning. In Ohio, a group of women was so determined, they booked a hotel room on Thursday night to be closer to the stores. In New York City, one woman went straight from a dance club to a department store in the middle of the night.
Many shoppers said Black Friday is as much about the spectacle as it is about doorbuster deals.
Kati Anderson said she stopped at Cumberland Mall in Atlanta on Friday morning for discounted clothes as well as "the people watching." Her friend, Katie Nasworthy, said she went to the mall instead of shopping online because she likes to see the Christmas decorations.
"It doesn't really feel like Christmas until now," said Kim Bryant, shopping in suburban Denver with her daughter and her daughter's friend, who had lined up at 5.40am, then sprinted inside when the doors opened at 6am.
Brick-and-mortar stores have worked hard to prove they can counter the competition from online behemoth Amazon. From Macy's to Target and Walmart, retailers are blending their online and store shopping experience with new tools like digital maps on smartphones and more options for shoppers to buy online and pick up at stores. And customers, frustrated with long checkout lines, can check out at Walmart and other stores with a salesperson in store aisles.
Consumers nearly doubled their online orders that they picked up at stores from Wednesday to Thanksgiving, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online spending. Priscilla Page, 28, punched her order number into a kiosk near the entrance of a Walmart in Louisville, Kentucky. She found a good deal online for a gift for her boyfriend, then arrived at the store to retrieve it.
"I've never Black Friday-shopped before," she said, as employees delivered her bag minutes later. "I'm not the most patient person ever. Crowds, lines, waiting, it's not really my thing. This was a lot easier."
The holiday shopping season presents a big test for a US economy, whose overall growth so far this year has relied on a burst of consumer spending. Americans upped their spending during the first half of 2018 at the strongest pace in 4 years, yet retail sales gains have tapered off recently. The sales totals over the next month will be a good indicator as to whether consumers simply paused to catch their breath or feel less optimistic about the economy in 2019.
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, is expecting holiday retail sales to increase as much as 4.8 per cent over 2017 for a total of $720.89 billion. The sales growth marks a slowdown from last year's 5.3 per cent, but remains healthy.
The retail economy is also tilting steeply toward online shopping. Over the past 12 months, purchases at non-store retailers such as Amazon have jumped 12.1 per cent as sales at traditional department stores have slumped 0.3 per cent. Adobe Analytics reported on Thursday that Thanksgiving reached a record $3.7 billion in online retail sales, up 28 per cent from the same year ago period. For Black Friday, online spending was on track to hit more than $6.4 billion, according to Adobe.
Big ticket items
Target reported that shoppers bought big ticket items like TVs, iPads, and Apple Watches. Among the most popular toy deals were Lego, L.O.L. Surprise from MGA Entertainment and Mattel's Barbie. It said gamers picked up video game consoles like Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
Black Friday itself has morphed from a single day when people got up early to score doorbusters into a whole month of deals. Plenty of major stores including Macy's, Walmart and Target started their deals on Thanksgiving evening. But some families are sticking by their Black Friday traditions.
"We boycotted Thursday shopping; that's the day for family. But the experience on Friday is just for fun," said Michelle Wise, shopping at Park Meadows Mall in Denver with her daughters. - AP
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