Shoppers took to stores worldwide on a Black Friday that appeared subdued compared with prior years, looking for discounted electronics, clothing, and household goods in the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, which is crucial to big retailers. But the day was tumultuous for some, including Best Buy (BBY.N) and Nordstrom (JWN.N) — both of which warned investors of slowing sales this week — as the companies struggled with an economic climate in which consumers are increasingly wary about spending after being buffeted by rising inflation.
The number of in-person shoppers at some stores was down from last year, though the overall sales volume is expected to be about as high or higher, according to experts. The National Retail Federation and Adobe Analytics predict that 166 million Americans will shop in stores or online between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
Analysts say that many shoppers are spread out this season, with some delaying purchases and others extending their holiday shopping to January or even later. That may make it harder for stores to sell their merchandise and holiday promotions through the traditional holiday season.
This year, most Black Friday sales were offered online rather than in physical stores. This trend has been accelerated by retailers trying to cut costs and boost customer convenience. The sales event also has shifted from a single day to an extended period of discounts and promotions that stretch through the weekend.
Retailers had already lowered their price tags in October and November, and the discounts are likely to deepen further over the next few weeks as they rush to move merchandise after overestimating product demand. Companies built up rich inventories of clothes, toys, and supplies in anticipation of holiday shopping, but the sluggish economy has made them anxious to unload excess inventory.
Some retailers, such as jewelry maker Tiffany & Co (TIF.N), are cutting prices to lure shoppers whose wallets have been stretched by higher inflation. Best Buy offers a range of electronics, from laptops to flat-screen TVs, at discount prices, but its sales were subdued in contrast with the frantic crowds that packed its stores in years past.
At a Walmart in New Milford, Connecticut, at 6 a.m., the parking lot was only half full. “It’s a lot quieter than in previous years; it’s a different environment,” said shopper Theresa Forsberg.
Amid the dwindling crowds, some consumers are turning to voice-activated digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri to help them hunt for deals on their phones or tablets. The technology has boosted online sales and helped retailers avoid many expenses associated with in-person shoppers, such as hiring extra staff for busy periods or paying for additional storage space to stock up on merchandise. But it’s not a substitute for a robust marketing strategy, so ecommerce brands use their email databases to target shoppers before the Black Friday discounts.