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Black Friday is back but it’s not what it used to be

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — On this year’s Black Friday, things almost seem normal.

Malls and stores report decent-sized crowds, if not the floods of people that used to fight over the latest toys and electronics — online shopping is much too common for that now, and discounts are both more subdued and spread out over the weeks leading up to Christmas, on both websites and in stores.

Out-of-stock items due to supply crunches, higher prices for gas and food, and labor shortages that make it more difficult to respond to customers are also causing frustrations for shoppers.

Christian MacDonald, the first person in a line of about 75 people waiting for a Costa Mesa, California Target store to open, came away empty-handed.

“I came here because I figured since it was Black Friday, they’d have the new Switch OLED in stock, but they didn’t,” said MacDonald, who waited an hour and a half to get in for the sought-after Nintendo video game console. “So I’m just going to go home, I guess.”

The country’s largest mall, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, said nearly 100,000 people had come as of early afternoon Friday, more than double last year but a bit shy of 2019 numbers.

“We had a fantastic start,” said Mall of America senior vice president Jill Renslow.

The staffing issues that have hit many retailers and restaurants, however, also affected Mall of America. It had to trim the hours it was open.

Still, Black Friday retail sales surged 29.8% through mid-afternoon, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all types of payments, including cash and credit cards. That was above its 20% growth forecast for the day. Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard, says the numbers speak to the “strength of the consumer.”

Overall holiday sales are expected to grow this year. The National Retail Federation predicts a sales increase of 8.5% to 10.5% for all of November and December, after 8% growth in those months in 2020.

While Black Friday has a strong hold on Americans’ imaginations as a day of crazed shopping, it has lost stature over the last decade as stores opened on Thanksgiving and shopping shifted to Amazon and other online retailers. Stores diluted the day’s importance further by advertising Black Friday sales on more and more days.

The pandemic led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day and push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October. That’s continuing this year, although there are deals in stores as well.

At the Fashion Centre mall in the northern Virginia suburbs, window signs advertised 50% off boots at Aldo, 40% off full price items at J.Crew, and 30% off at Forever 21. At the Capital Mall in Olympia, Washington, stores advertised sales of 35% to 50% off.

Big box retailers like Walmart, however, aren’t blasting “doorbuster” deals in their ads, said DealNews.com analyst Julie Ramhold. And clothing chains like Victoria’s Secret and Gap are having harder time managing supply issues. Victoria’s Secret said recently that 45% of its holiday merchandise is still stuck in transit.

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