NEW YORK — Black Friday enthusiasts woke up before dawn and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls in search of hot deals, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But the ever-growing popularity of online shopping and holiday discounts that started weeks earlier dampened the frenzy. This year, more people got a head start on gift-hunting, lured by deals from retailers trying to compensate for the shorter season.
The shopping season is the shortest since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the last Thursday in November — the latest possible date it could be.
Shoppers up since the wee hours slept in chairs at Nashville’s Opry Mills mall, known for its outlet stores. Outside, deal-seekers were still fighting for parking spots by midmorning.
The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, baked the shorter season into its forecast, but it says the real drivers will be the job market. It forecasts that holiday sales will rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, an increase from the disappointing 2.1% growth in the November and December 2018 period that came well short of the group’s prediction.
NRF expects online and catalog sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 11% and 14% for the holiday period.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group Inc., says he doesn’t believe a shorter season will affect overall sales, but early discounts will likely diminish Black Friday’s impact. In terms of the busiest day of the year, it will be a toss-up between Black Friday and the last Saturday before Christmas.
“We still have the same amount of money to spend regardless of whether the season is longer or shorter,” he said.
More and more people are choosing to partake in Black Friday from the comfort of their homes.
This year’s Black Friday was the biggest ever for online sales, and Adobe Analytics says carts filled on phones, computers and tablets rang up $7.4 billion in transactions.
That ranks just behind the $7.9 billion haul of last year’s Cyber Monday, which holds the one-day record for online sales. Adobe measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers.
Adobe expects online sales to hit $9.4 billion this Cyber Monday. Much of the shopping is happening on people’s phones, which accounted for 39% of all online sales Friday and 61% of online traffic.
Shoppers have been looking for “Frozen 2” toys in particular. Other top purchases included sports video games and Apple laptops.