The Friday after Thanksgiving may no longer be the undisputed king of holiday sales, but with turkeys consumed and leftovers in the fridge, a record-setting 3,000 people were still in line at 5 a.m. as the Mall of America doors opened in Bloomington.
“They showed up earlier, and crowds grew faster,” said mall spokesman Dan Jasper.
While holiday specials started in early November this year, about 17% of Americans were expected to start working through their gift lists on Black Friday, up significantly from 2018, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Hannah Hernandez arrived from Milwaukee with a passel of extended family to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with family in Minnesota. The alarm in their hotel room rang well before daybreak, and by 4:30 a.m., they were ready to get out and shop at MOA.
“Just spending time together is like getting the Christmas spirit,” said Hernandez, a freshman at Marquette University.
“We work in foster care,” said her mother, Sherryl Hernandez, motioning to her friend. “Our jobs are so stressful. Her first year at school is stressful. Just being able to come here, see so many smiles and laughter. It really isn’t about spending anything. It’s just to get away from the mundane, day-to-day stress and just walk and laugh and create memories.”
This year, more than 165 million people are expected to shop during the five-day span between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has estimated.
Consumers say they are looking forward to this holiday season, according to retail market research firm NPD Group, calling it a welcome break from everything happening in the world. Half agree with the Hernandez family: Shopping with friends and family puts them in the holiday mood.
“Consumers are faced with endless distractions, be they financial, political or social — many of which also function as purchase influencers that marketers need to understand and address,” said NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen.
The November-December gifting season remains a key window into the consumer mind-set, and strong holiday sales can inject an important jolt of fuel into the nation’s economy. About 20% of all U.S. retail spending comes between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, according to the NRF, the nation’s largest industry group. Total retail sales are expected to grow between 4% and 5% compared with last year.
With six fewer shopping days, this year could present a mixed bag for retailers. Most consumers feel pretty good about their personal finances, which tends to be a strong gauge of holiday spending, researchers say.
Yet shoppers’ outlook for the broader U.S. economy in 2020 is the weakest it has been in eight years, holiday surveys conducted by Deloitte show. About 44% see the economy weakening significantly or modestly in the coming year.
E-commerce sales are expected to grow by double digits again this season, with a majority of consumers planning a holiday of “bricks and clicks” — both shopping at physical stores and online for deals.
Minneapolis-based Target Corp., which announced Friday it would start Cyber Monday sales on Sunday, said that 1 million more shoppers used the Target app to shop Black Friday deals compared to last year.
Amazon stands to capture one of every four e-commerce dollars on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, similar to previous years, according to data from Rakuten Intelligence. By contrast the next four biggest e-commerce players Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Kohls together are expected to get about one in six e-commerce dollars on those days.
Yet even with the rise in e-commerce, 87% of holiday sales still come from brick-and-mortar locations. The nation’s malls and megastores remain a Black Friday draw.
Unlike many big-box and department stores, the Mall of America was closed on Thanksgiving, but shoppers began lining up at noon for the 5 a.m. open on Black Friday.
Julie Simonson of Blaine and her sister, Jen Cartier of Fridley, arrived at the Mall of America at 2:30 a.m. for what has become a tradition of shopping for their three teenage children, who are cousins but as close as siblings.
“We’re still very traditional,” Simonson said. “Thanksgiving should be spent with family. Black Friday’s when things really get going.”
Kelley Strom and her daughter, Whitley, made the rounds on Thanksgiving evening, hitting Kohl’s, Target and Best Buy. They came home, “took a power nap,” and arrived at the Mall of America around 4:15 a.m. to join the crowd that swelled to 500 more than last year’s 2,500 as the doors opened.
Strom said she is feeling good about household finances and was looking forward to spending time with her daughter.
“It’s good to get away from the daily grind,” she said.
Jill Renslow, senior vice president of business development and marketing for MOA, said that’s part of the megamall’s marketing plan.
“People like tradition,” she said. “They like to know there’s something they can count on they can come back year after year to celebrate. But we’re always going to up our game — the prizes are bigger and better this year.”
More than eight in 10 consumers in a Deloitte survey said promotions will influence their buying decisions. Discounts are by far the driving factor, more than buy-one-get-one offers or cash-back.
Bianey Neri-Ochoa, who was out shopping with friends Friday, said her group is “definitely looking for deals.”
A sophomore at the University of Minnesota, Neri-Ochoa is heading to Hawaii for a semester to study. “We think it’s going to be more expensive there, so we’re buying some clothes and hoping to take advantage of some deals.”
Renslow said about 240,000 people rolled through Mall of America’s doors last year on Black Friday and 400,000 over the long weekend.
While Sears remains dark, the mall has opened 25 new stores since last year and added new entertainment venues. The mall’s traffic trends mirror those across the nation, with people shopping earlier as retailers rolled out sales before Black Friday.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335 Twitter: @JackieCrosby