Black Friday appears to have lost its allure. Even as thousands of Triangle residents descended on local shopping destinations Friday, shoppers and store managers reported calmer and smaller crowds than in previous years.
The growing popularity of shopping online, along with many retailers’ decisions to offer their best deals on Thanksgiving, has turned the once-chaotic day into just another sale.
The new reality was evident at stores like the Best Buy in Cary’s Crossroads Plaza. An initial rush of a few dozen shoppers quickly yielded to a tamer crowd perusing mobile devices and laptops that, coincidentally, are helping more and more Americans avoid trips to brick-and-mortar stores such as Best Buy.
“The mad rush happened yesterday,” said Bill Garinger, manager of the Best Buy in Cary.
The store opened at 5 p.m. on Thursday, offering a limited number of 49-inch Toshiba TVs – Garinger declined to say how many – for $149 apiece.
“It seemed like (the rush) was constant for at least half-an-hour,” he said.
Parking wasn’t an issue at Raleigh’s Cameron Village. Sandra Thompson, a sales associate at Lori+Lulu boutique, saw big Black Friday crowds at Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall in recent years, so she left home for work 30 minutes early Friday in hopes of securing a parking space.
“As you can see, I didn’t have a problem,” Thompson said, pointing to vacant spots along the curb.
“This is pretty much what Cameron Village looks like on any normal day,” she said.
The smaller crowds on Friday could be a bad sign for retailers who rely on Thanksgiving weekend for a large percentage of their annual sales. Thanksgiving weekend spending fell 6 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation, the largest U.S. retail trade organization, which predicted a slight improvement this year.
Better deals online
Meanwhile, online shopping numbers are surging.
Black Friday shoppers spent $2.4 billion online last year, according to Adobe Systems, which tracks online transactions. This year, they spent $2.72 billion on Friday. About 34 percent of those transactions were made on mobile devices, up from 27 percent last year.
Jean Barbieri of Cary went to Best Buy because it had a sale on GPS devices, and she wanted to see them in person. But Barbieri, 60, admits she’s in the minority among her friends.
“I like to see and touch things; I’m more old school,” she said.
Terri Hartofelis and her teenage daughter got up early to shop at SRI Shoe Warehouse in Raleigh, but they weren’t impressed by the sales. Her daughter often finds better deals online on any given day, Hartofelis said.
“Sometimes I’ve thought, ‘I could get this price any other day. Why am I here?’ ” she said.
Despite low gas prices, Hartofelis was among those shoppers who said they were reluctant to reach deeper into their wallets than previous years.
Hartofelis said she and her husband, a local real estate agent, used to buy gifts for all their nephews and nieces. But in recent years, she said family members have shared the cost of gifts and drawn names of relatives to buy for.
“We’ve recovered some from the recession but not completely,” Hartofelis said.
Her views reflect those of many Americans this holiday season. National consumer confidence in the economy fell in November to the surprise of many economists, according to a survey by the Conference Board, a business research group.
Shopping habits change
The shifting shopping habits and tastes of consumers have hit major department stores such as Macy’s, Sears and JCPenney particularly hard. Those retailers’ struggles pose challenges for Triangle malls, which count some of the stores among their anchor tenants.
Cary Towne Center, for instance, lost Sears as an anchor store earlier this year, and Topgolf, a Texas-based entertainment company, recently abandoned plans to build a facility on the space after neighbors complained to Cary town leaders about lights and noise.
Another half-dozen storefronts were dark Friday morning as the 36-year-old mall saw light foot traffic down its main walkways.
Some, like Tabitha Hudson and Wendy Cole of Sanford, perused stores out of tradition more than need.
Noting the departure of stores like Gap and Chico’s, they said they’ve changed their shopping habits.
“It’s so much easier to just shop online,” said Cole, who carried a couple of Belk bags.
“We just wanted to get out,” Hudson added. “We had that feeling like, you’ve just go to get out of the house even though you don’t have much to buy.”