Business & Economy

Shoppers are out hunting for deals as sales start earlier

A shopper takes advantage of the Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving in New York City November 24, 2017.
A shopper takes advantage of the Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving in New York City November 24, 2017.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Parking lots were full and shopping bags were plentiful in some places Saturday as holiday gift-seekers were out looking for bargains, even as the competition among retailers to offer earlier deals and snag customers first has pulled sales forward.

At the Woodbury Common outlets north of New York City, retail expert Craig R. Johnson was impressed by how many people were there — though crowds were still not as heavy as several years ago before online shopping was such a draw.

"Some stores like Nike had like a hundred people in the checkout line," said Johnson, president of consulting group Customer Growth Partners. "Virtually everyone there was carrying a bag — one or two or three or more."

An employee at an Old Navy on Black Friday, November 24, 2017 in New York City.
An employee at an Old Navy on Black Friday, November 24, 2017 in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images for Old Navy

As shoppers said stores also seemed less crowded on Black Friday than in earlier years, data from Adobe Analytics, the research arm of software maker Adobe, showed that a record $5.03 billion was spent online by the end of the day, an increase of nearly 17 percent from a year earlier.

It said the top-selling items on Black Friday included the Nintendo Switch, Hatchimals and Colleggtibles toys, PJ Masks items, LOL Surprise dolls, Ride On Cars, as well as Chromecast and Roku streaming devices.

People line up for a Black Friday giveaway outside the Mall of America on November 24, 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana.
People line up for a Black Friday giveaway outside the Mall of America on November 24, 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

In addition to the online effect, Johnson cited the fact that more stores are opening on Thanksgiving, and that is "pulling" traffic from the holiday weekend. J.C. Penney stores opened at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year and at least three hours ahead of its department store rivals. Many stores offered deals online all week.

Shoppers are expected to spend at least 3.6 percent more in November and December than they did last holiday season — in line with last year's bump. Johnson called that "good, solid" growth, though less than was the case in three boom years through 2006 when sales in the last two months of the year leapt at 6 percent or more.

People shop at a mall on Black Friday in Naples, Florida on November 24, 2017.
People shop at a mall on Black Friday in Naples, Florida on November 24, 2017.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

At the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, where parking lots were full, J.C. Penney was offering store-wide sales like up to 40 percent off on major appliances and on women's clothing. The chain was also trying to make shopping in person more exciting, with a DJ in the store.

Jason Noda, 29, bought a pair of boots for himself on sale at the Garden State Plaza. He said he wasn't "super impressed" with the sales on Saturday, and said he buys mostly online but likes being at stores to get ideas.

A woman shops at Walmart near the Green Acres Mall on Black Friday on November 24, 2017 in Valley Stream, NY.
A woman shops at Walmart near the Green Acres Mall on Black Friday on November 24, 2017 in Valley Stream, NY.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

"I like going to stores, but I can find anything online," he said. He does plan to try ordering a product and picking it up in the store, a tactic that retailers are increasingly using. "It's immediate," he said.

Consumers shop Black Friday sales at the Best Buy store in Burbank, California, November 24, 2017 near Los Angeles.
Consumers shop Black Friday sales at the Best Buy store in Burbank, California, November 24, 2017 near Los Angeles.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

That's one strategy Johnson thinks will be a success this holiday season for Walmart, which is encouraging shoppers to order goods online, then take quick trip to one of its stores to pick them up. He called the "click and carry" idea a "big, competitive weapon" for Walmart in its fight against Amazon.

People shop at a H&M store on Black Friday on November 24, 2017 in New York City.
People shop at a H&M store on Black Friday on November 24, 2017 in New York City.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images