Fearing empty shelves, Black Friday 'early birds' head to U.S. stores

CHICAGO (Reuters) – With many major U.S. retailers opening their doors to shoppers at 5 a.m. on Friday, early risers ventured out, hoping to find gifts to tuck under the Christmas tree before products sell out.

FILE PHOTO: Holiday shoppers look for deals at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

The day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, known as Black Friday here, officially kicks off the year-end shopping season here. In most past years, retailers have hosted ‘doorbuster’ discounts of 50%-or-more-off everything from clothing and toys to TVs, prompting shoppers to line up for blocks outside stores and crowd into malls to scramble for deals.

But as online shopping has taken off, Black Friday crowds have dwindled, particularly in 2020 when people were still unvaccinated and worried about COVID-19.

Regardless, early queues were expected, with some shoppers worried that an ongoing supply chain logjam here might prevent retailers from stocking sought-after items such as Hoverboard scooters, Nerf toys, Oculus Quest 2 headsets, AirPods Pro earbuds, and MacBook Air laptops.

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

A report by consumer research platform Attest showed about two-thirds of 1,000 people surveyed on Nov. 13 were comfortable shopping in-person despite the ongoing pandemic.

“People are looking to get back to normal,” said Rod Sides, Deloitte’s U.S. retail leader. “The early online birds, and the birds that went into the store, may get the worm.”

A Deloitte survey here showed people had already spent 80%-85% of their budgets before Black Friday. Still, the consultancy said two-fifths of respondents would line up at stores on Black Friday between midnight and 6 a.m.

Nivia Lopez, 26, from Bolingbrook, Illinois, has already scratched perfumes and makeup from Ulta Beauty off her Christmas list, but is venturing out to Victoria’s Secret, Best Buy and Nordstrom on Black Friday. Lopez, who typically shopped on Thanksgiving before stores increasingly closed on the holiday, took advantage of early online deals.

As stores welcome holiday shoppers, some may be reevaluating their security measures after high-end stores in some U.S. cities were targeted by brazen “smash-and-grab” robberies here, where masked thieves stuff bags full of merchandise.


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 now double-digit year-over-year wage increases as businesses compete for scarce workers.

Data out Wednesday showed consumer spending grew by a greater-than-expected 1.3% in October. Spending on big-ticket items like automobiles lifted the headline figure, but the data also showed broad-based spending increases on services like travel.

Online and brick-and-mortar retailing come together just outside the store. This Black Friday, retailers including Target, Macy’s and Walmart, allocated more floor 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. Target added more than 18,000 “drive-up” parking spaces, more than doubling spots versus last year.

Curbside pickup increased 92% in November compared to 2019, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index, which showed 23% of online orders on Nov 23 were for curbside pickup.

Hayden Willis and Grace Lafortune, visiting Chicago for Thanksgiving, lined up early on Black Friday before flying home to Seattle, despite doing some holiday shopping earlier in the week.

“I feel like there are more options online. I know things are going to be readily available and I can just shop and ship to my family,” said Lafortune, 22, who eyed gifts for Willis’ mother and sisters at Bloomingdales, Anthropologie and Nordstrom Rack.

As of Nov 23, out-of-stocks messages had already risen 8% versus the prior week, according to Adobe. Through most of November, out-of-stocks were up 261% versus 2019.

“There are already reported shortages of toys in a number of big sellers in North America and I think you’ll see similar shortages in electronics,” said Andy Halliwell, senior director of retail at consultancy Publicis Sapient.

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

“Instead of seeing eight piled-high boxes of TVs, you might see three or four stacks of TVs. You might see fewer bicycles on the racks,” NPD analyst Marshal Cohen said.

Higher supply-chain costs have forced many retailers to raise prices and cut back on discounts.

Apparel prices, for instance, were up 8.6% through the first 10 months of the year on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares with a 0% increase in the first 10 months of 2020 and 4.7% in the first 10 months of 2019. Meanwhile, in the 12 months through October, the Consumer Price Index accelerated 6.2%.

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