Black Friday shopping gets slow start as inflation soars

After indulging in a Thanksgiving feast, Americans are waking up and heading to the stores in search Black Friday bargains — but this year inflation is weighing on shoppers heavier than last night’s turkey.

In Chesterfield, Missouri, on Thursday evening, there were no customers lined up behind the barricades set up outside the Best Buy in anticipation of lines for doorbuster deals.

“I see nothing. I’m surprised,” Jeremy Pritchett told news station Fox2Now. “Normally, it’s wrapped all the way around the building, today no one.”

Sky-high prices for food, rent, gasoline and other household costs have taken a toll on consumers, leaving many of them reluctant to spend unless there is a big sale and are being more selective with what they will buy — in many cases, trading down to cheaper stuff and less expensive stores.

Cash-strapped shoppers are also dipping more into their savings, turning increasingly to “buy now, pay later” services like Afterpay that allow users to pay for items in installments, as well as running up their credit cards.

Such financial hardships could help drive shoppers to look for discounts as the holiday shopping season kicks off.

Isela Dalencia, who was shopping for household essentials like detergent at a Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey, earlier this week, said she’s delaying buying holiday gifts until Cyber Monday — the Monday after Thanksgiving — when online sales rev up.

Then, she will wait again until the week before Christmas to get the best deals, unlike last year when she started buying before Black Friday.

“I am shopping less,” Dalencia said, noting she will spend about $700 for holiday gifts this year, one-third less than last year.

Analysts expect holiday sales growth will slow compared to last year, when retailers were plagued by supply chain problems.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Ima

Katie Leach, a social worker in Manhattan, was also browsing the aisles at Walmart but said she will start holiday shopping during the first week of December as usual.

This time, however, she’ll be relying more on markdowns, her credit card and “buy now, pay later” services to get her through the shopping season because of surging prices on food and other necessities.

“The money is not going as far as last year,” Leach said.

Shoppers hit Tysons Corner Mall on Black Friday in Virginia.
Shoppers hit Tysons Corner Mall on Black Friday in Virginia.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

Plenty of shoppers like Lolita Cordero from Brooklyn, New York, are sitting out Black Friday.

“I’m shopping early, trying to get things on sale, discount, or clearance – and I use coupons,” Cordero said. “I never did Black Friday. I hear it’s a mess, and people get hurt.”

This year’s trends are a contrast to a year ago when consumers were buying early out of fear of not getting what they needed because of supply chain woes. Stores didn’t have to slash prices much because they were struggling to bring in items.

But some pandemic habits are sticking around. Many retailers that closed stores on Thanksgiving Day and instead pushed discounts on their websites to thin out crowds at their brick-and-mortar locations did the same this year as well, despite a return to normalcy.

Tysons Corner Mall
Shoppers said they plan on using the buy now pay later feature this year.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

Major retailers including Walmart and Target again closed their stores on Thanksgiving. And many moved away from doorbusters, the deeply marked down items offered for a limited time that drew often unruly crowds, leading to scenes of mayhem on Black Friday.

Instead, the marked-down items are available throughout the month, on Black Friday or the holiday weekend.

Against today’s economic backdrop, the National Retail Federation — the largest retail trade group — expects holiday sales growth will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, from the blistering 13.5% growth of a year ago.

However, these figures, which include online spending, aren’t adjusted for inflation so real spending could even be down from a year ago.

Adobe Analytics expects online sales to be up 2.5% from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, a slowdown from last year’s 8.6% pace when shoppers were uncertain about returning to physical stores.

Analysts consider the five-day Black Friday weekend, which includes Cyber Monday, a key barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend, particularly this year. The two-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas represents about 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales.

With Post wires