Inflation hangs over bargain-hunting shoppers on Black Friday

NEW YORK (AP) – Shoppers have been looking for the best deals in stores and online as retailers have offered new Black Friday discounts to entice consumers eager to start shopping for holiday gifts but weighed down by inflation.

Due to high prices for food, rent, gasoline, and other essentials, many people were reluctant to spend unless there was a big sale.

Buyers have been more selective, selecting cheaper options, dipping into savings more, and switching to “buy now, pay later” services that allow for installment payments. Some were also maxing out their credit cards at a time when the Federal Reserve is raising rates to cool the US economy.

Sheila Diggs, 55, went to a Walmart in Mount Airy, Maryland, early Friday looking for a deal on a coffee maker and to see what else was in the aisles. She said her family is more cautious about vacation spending this year. Usually all the adults in the family gave each other gifts. But this year everyone is drawing names and selecting one person, because things cost so much more, she said.

“Everything is going up except your salary,” said Diggs, who manages medical records at a local hospital.

This year’s trends contrast with a year ago, when consumers bought early out of fear of not getting what they needed due to supply network bottlenecks. The shops didn’t have to discount much as they were struggling to carry the items.

This year, shoppers are looking for the best bargains, said Rob Garf, vice president and general manager of retail at Salesforce, which tracks online sales. He said retailers finally responded this week, introducing more attractive deals online after offering mostly lackluster discounts at the beginning of the season.

Online discount rates were 31% on Thanksgiving, up 7% from a year earlier, according to Salesforce data. The biggest discounts were on household appliances, general clothing, makeup and luxury handbags. Online sales during the holidays were up 9% from last year.

“Retailers have finally stepped up to the discount game, and consumers are responding likewise,” said Garf.

Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan, where discounts included 60% off fashion jewelry and 50% off select shoes, was packed with shoppers early Friday.

Traffic was “significantly higher” on Black Friday than in the previous two years because shoppers feel more comfortable in crowds, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said.

She said the bestsellers from Macy’s online sale, which began last weekend, included 50 percent off beauty sets. Macy’s, like many other stores, had supply chain issues last year, and some gifts didn’t arrive until after Christmas.

“Right now we are primed and ready to go,” he said.

Sophia Rose, 40, a visiting respiratory specialist in Manhattan from Albany, New York, was heading to Macy’s with big plans to splurge after saving up last year when she was still in school. She set herself a food and gas budget to deal with inflation, but she had already spent $2,000 on Christmas gifts and plans to spend a total of $6,000.

“I’ll touch every floor,” he said. “That’s the plan.”

A Best Buy store in Manhattan had TVs stacked high, including 50-inch Samsung TVs discounted to $297, a savings of $82.

Delmarie Quinones, a 30-year-old healthcare worker from the Bronx, was only there to pick up a laptop and printer she’d ordered online for $179 — down from $379 — as part of a Black Friday sale.

Quinones said higher prices for food and other expenses are causing her to reduce her spending compared to a year ago, when she had money from the government’s children’s tax credit payments.

“I can’t get what I had before,” said the mother of five, ages 1 to 13. “Even when it was back to school, getting them the essentials was difficult.”

Major retailers, including Walmart and Target, have stuck with their pandemic-era decision to close stores on Thanksgiving Day, backing away from doorbells and instead pushing discounts on their websites.

But people are still shopping for Thanksgiving, online. Garf said online sales surged in the evenings around the holidays, suggesting people have switched from feasting to phone shopping. And with holiday travel on the risesaid that a larger share of online shopping occurred on mobile devices this year.

“The cell phone has become the remote control of our daily lives, and this has led to an increase in couch purchases as consumers settle down after Thanksgiving dinner,” said Garf.

In today’s economic environment, the National Retail Federation, the largest retail group, expects holiday sales growth to slow to a range of 6% to 8%, compared with soaring growth in 13, 5% a year ago. However, these figures, which include online spending, aren’t adjusted for inflation, so actual spending may even be lower than it was a year ago.

Adobe Analytics expects online sales to grow 2.5% from November 1 to December 31, a slowdown from last year’s 8.6% pace when shoppers were hesitant to return to brick-and-mortar stores.

Analysts consider the five-day Black Friday weekend, which includes Cyber ​​Monday, a key barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend, particularly this year. The two-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas accounts for about 20% of annual retail sales.

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Hadero reported from Mount Airy, Maryland. Olson reported from Arlington, Virginia. Associated Press personal finance writer Cora Lewis of New York contributed to this report.

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