US shoppers browse stores, buy online as Black Friday deals beckon

CHICAGO/NEW YORK: US stores offered deep discounts, entertainment and free gifts to lure bargain hunters on Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday retail season, but some shoppers said they were just browsing the merchandise, reserving their cash for Internet purchases.
Still, a sharp rise in online sales brightened the overall outlook for those traditional retailers that have expanded beyond brick-and-mortar outlets, sending their shares higher in day-after-Thanksgiving trading.
Stores also had carefully managed inventory, seeking to ward off any post-holiday liquidation that would weigh on profits.
There was little evidence of the delirious shopper frenzy customary of Black Fridays from past years, even as some stores appeared to be getting creative with gimmicks besides heavy discounts to draw in customers.
No actual data for Friday’s brick-and-mortar business was immediately available.
Despite anecdotal signs of muted in-store sales — fewer cars in mall parking lots, shoppers leaving stores without purchases in hand — consumers are still expected to spend more overall this holiday season than last, analysts and industry executives said.
Black Friday online sales totalled at least $3.54 billion by 8 pm EST (0100 Saturday GMT), up 15.6 per cent from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions at the largest 100 US web retailers.
On Thanksgiving Day, US shoppers spent more than $2.87 billion online.
Adobe projected Internet sales would still reach a record $5 billion by the end of the night, with online retailers forecast to rake in an additional $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday.
Indeed, some chains struggled to keep up, with brief online outages experienced by Lowe’s, H&M and the Gap, among others, according to website performance monitors.
Macy’s Inc customers in several states, including Texas, Arizona and Illinois, took to social media to complain about the retailer’s credit card processing system.
The company acknowledged that processing was taking longer than usual in its stores and said it was working on the problem.
The hiccups dragged Macy’s shares 0.6 per cent lower in extended trading.
They had ended the regular session up 2.1 per cent, boosted by comments from Chief Executive Jeff Gennette, who told CNBC that Macy’s was better off this year than last, had robust online demand and was in a good place for holiday promotions.
Macy’s and JC Penney Co Inc did a better job of ordering and controlling inventory this time, according to Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resources Group, a consultancy with seven researchers out in the field.
“The turnout this morning has been relatively slow, but it is still the best we have seen in three years,” Flickinger said, citing improving consumer confidence, a strong job market and healthy housing prices.
Fair weather across much of the nation also was factor, said National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay.
Some shoppers were enticed by the promise of spectacle, while others felt the pull of nostalgia.
“It’s like a hangout, it’s an experience,” said Jonathan Lin, 17. “All my friends are back from college and we got together.”
-“There’s something nostalgic about being at the stores this early,” Jennifer Stasiak said at Chicago’s popular Oakbrook Centre.
Not everyone found the Black Friday magic irresistible.
“I avoid the store, too many crowds,” said Elana Silverstein, 32, a school counsellor enjoying a warm, sunny day at a Los Angeles park.
Instead, Silverstein said, she bought several personal items on sale on Thursday night through the online marketplace Groupon.
Major retailers generally traded higher on Wall Street.
JC Penney climbed 0.6 per cent and Wal-Mart Stores Inc edged upward. Inc closed up 2.6 per cent at a record high.
Target Corporation did not fare as well, with analysts noting that it closed its stores for several hours
overnight while many rivals kept
their doors open. Its shares fell 2.8 per cent. — Reuters