Inflation hovers over shoppers looking for Black Friday deals

NEW YORK (AP) — Shoppers looked for the best deals in stores and online as retailers offered new Black Friday discounts to lure consumers eager to get a head start on Christmas gift shopping but weighed down by inflation.

Due to increased prices for food, rent, gas and other necessities, many people were reluctant to spend unless there was a big sale.

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

Sheila Diggs, 55, went to Walmart in Mount Airy, Md., early Friday to look for a deal on a coffee maker and see what else was in the aisles. She said her family is being more careful about spending the holidays this year. Usually all the adults in the family exchanged gifts. But this year, everyone draws names and chooses one person because things cost so much more, she said.

“Everything goes up, except your paycheck,” said Diggs, who manages medical records at a local hospital.

This year’s trends are in contrast to a year ago, when consumers bought early for fear of not getting what they needed at a time of gridlock. Stores didn’t have to discount much because they were trying to bring in the goods.

This year, shoppers are poised to get the best deals, said Rob Garf, vice president and general manager of retail at Salesforce, which tracks online sales. He said retailers had finally responded this week by introducing more attractive offers online after offering mostly lackluster discounts earlier in the season.

Online discount rates were 31% on Thanksgiving Day, up 7% from a year earlier, according to Salesforce data. The steepest discounts were on home appliances, casual clothing, make-up and luxury handbags. Online holiday sales are up 9% over last year.

“Retailers are finally getting around to discounting, and consumers are responding,” Garf said.

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

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

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

“Right now we’re set and ready to go,” he said.

Sophia Rose, 40, a respiratory specialist visiting Manhattan from Albany, N.Y., was heading to Macy’s with big plans to spend after spending the previous year while she was still in school. She has budgeted for food and gas to keep up with inflation, but has already spent $2,000 on Christmas gifts and plans to spend $6,000 in total.

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

At Best Buy in Manhattan, TVs were stacked high, including 50-inch Samsung TVs marked down to $297, a savings of $82.

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

Quinones said higher prices for food and other expenses are forcing her to cut back on her spending from a year ago, when she had money from the government’s child tax levy.

“I can’t get what I used to get,” said the mother of five children, ages 1 to 13.

Major retailers including Walmart and Target have stuck to their pandemic-era decision to close stores on Thanksgiving Day, moving away from the thresholds and instead promoting discounts on their websites.

But people are still shopping for Thanksgiving — online. Garf said online sales spiked in the evening during the holiday, suggesting people switched from feasting to shopping by phone. And with holiday travel upsaid that this year there has been a greater share of online shopping on mobile devices.

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

In today’s economic context, the National Retail Federation — the largest retail group — expects holiday sales growth to slow to 6% to 8% from a roaring 13.5% growth a year ago. However, these figures, which include online spending, are not adjusted for inflation, so real spending may even be lower than a year ago.

Adobe Analytics expects online sales to rise 2.5% from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, a slowdown from last year’s 8.6% pace, when shoppers were uncertain about returning to brick-and-mortar stores.

Analysts see the five-day Black Friday weekend, which includes Cyber ​​Monday, as a key barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend, especially 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 in New York contributed to this report.

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