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Black Friday ‘early birds’ find U.S. stores less crowded, fewer bargains

Bargain hunters ventured out in chilly weather to buy Christmas gifts on Black Friday (November 26), finding stores less crowded than in years past as major U.S. retailers opened their doors early.

A shift online, COVID fears and less-steep discounts have thinned crowds on the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, which kicks off the year-end holiday shopping season.

Many shoppers are also choosing curbside pick-up rather than venturing inside.

Macy’s is extending its digital delivery deadline closer to Christmas, Chief Executive Jeff Gennette told Reuters in an interview.

The deadline will now be Dec. 22 or Dec. 23, versus Dec. 15 last year. If shoppers order by 10 a.m., they could have same-day delivery in certain stores and categories.

As online shopping has taken off, Black Friday crowds have dwindled, particularly in 2020 when people were still unvaccinated against COVID-19.

For November and December, online sales are estimated to hit a record $207 billion, up 10% from last year, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.

The National Retail Federation has forecast combined brick-and-mortar and online holiday sales would grow 8.5%-10.5% to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion.

Walmart, Best Buy, and Target TGT.N this year did not require vaccinated shoppers to wear masks, but some indoor malls kept existing mask requirements.

A Deloitte survey showed people already spent 80%-85% of their budgets before Black Friday.

Another concern is that an ongoing supply chain logjam might prevent retailers from stocking sought-after items such as Hoverboard scooters, Oculus Quest 2 headsets, Nerf toys, AirPods Pro earbuds and MacBook Air laptops.

U.S. consumers enter the holiday season flush with spending power thanks to a still-hefty pile of savings from multiple rounds of government pandemic relief, and double-digit wage increases as businesses compete for workers.

Online and brick-and-mortar retailing come together just outside the store.

Retailers including Target, Macy’s and Walmart allocated more space and workers to online pick-up stations and curbside parking.

Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, hired 150,000 workers for the holidays, many for these jobs. Walmart is giving users an hour to check out after scheduling a time to retrieve orders.

Target added more than 18,000 “drive-up” parking spaces, more than doubling spots versus last year.

Target’s website warns of “limited qualities” and “no rainchecks.”

Curbside pickup increased 92% in November compared to 2019, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.

Electronics – in short supply due to a global chip shortage – had the highest out-of-stock levels, followed by personal care, and home and garden, according to Adobe.

Through most of November, out-of-stocks were up 261% versus 2019.

(Production: Aleksandra Michalska and Hussein al Waaile)

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