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Omicron and inflation didn’t stop shoppers on Black Friday, Cyber Monday

Amid supply chain snarls and fears that gifts shipped to homes would arrive too late, more holiday shoppers made in-store purchases than they did last year.
Black Friday shoppers walk through The Mall in Robinson Township, Pa., on Friday. Andrew Rush / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

Holiday shoppers streamed back into stores over Black Friday weekend in a sign that consumers are eager to return to in-person shopping — despite higher prices, lower discounts and a new Covid-19 variant — industry analysts said.

Nearly 180 million shoppers spent an average of $301 over Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation, or NRF, a trade group, and the data analytics firm Prosper Insights & Analytics.

About 105 million shoppers visited stores over the weekend, compared to just 92 million last year. The number of online shoppers decreased to about 128 million from 145 million last year. 

“We all enjoy the tradition of enjoying things in person and in-store shopping as a symbolic kickoff to holiday season — and [shoppers] missed that in many cases last year,” Matthew Shay, the NRF's president and CEO, told reporters in a news call Tuesday. 

“There is general fatigue,” he said. “People are tired of doing things remotely and on stream and doing things virtually. They would like to be together doing those things in person."

People are tired of doing things remotely and virtually. They would like to be together doing those things in person.

About 46 percent of U.S. consumers shopped online over the weekend, according to the NRF. About 44 percent of people shopped at department stores, 39 percent shopped at grocery stores, 32 percent shopped at clothing retailers, 28 percent shopped at electronics stores, and 26 percent shopped at discount stores, the group reported.

Traffic soared over the weekend at the beauty stores Ulta and Sephora, according to the location analytics firm Placer.Ai. Ulta’s foot traffic increased by 42 percent from last year, and Sephora's increased by about 98 percent, it found. Shoppers returned to discount stores, including T.J. Maxx and Ross, whose traffic increased by more than 30 percent.

More people shopped at malls this year compared to last year, but shopping centers are still losing foot traffic compared to 2019, according to Placer. Visits to indoor malls increased by 83 percent from last year but fell by about 9 percent compared to 2019, according to the firm’s early mall traffic data. 

A customer shops for shoes Friday in the Nike Factory Store at the Outlet Shoppes in El Paso, Texas. Paul Ratje / AFP - Getty Images

Digital sales from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday drove $33.9 billion in online spending, down by 1.4 percent from last year, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index. Black Friday online sales fell to $8.9 billion from $9 billion, and Thanksgiving Day sales stayed flat from last year, at $5.1 billion.

“Consumers are buying earlier, and they’re buying heavier earlier,” said Patrick Brown, Adobe’s vice president of growth marketing and insights. “So we think this is a result of consumers’ heeding the warnings about outages.”

Throughout November, consumers have spent $109.8 billion online, an increase of about 12 percent from last year, according to Adobe. The full holiday shopping season is estimated to hit $207 billion, a 10 percent increase from last year, according to Adobe.

While supply chain challenges have dominated headlines in the last several weeks, about 70 percent of consumers surveyed by the NRF said they are confident that they will find the products and supplies they need. They added that while they may not find their first choices in products, they will find alternative products. 

“The supply chain thing is somewhat overblown. ... There are still things [shoppers] can get,” said Greg Maloney, the president and CEO of retail for the commercial real estate services company JLL. “They’re not rushing out to get something unless it’s a hot toy or one electronic or something, but beyond that it’s not a big thing for a lot of people.”

However, out-of-stock messages are still common. Out-of-stock messages were up by 8 percent on Cyber Monday compared to the week before. Through November, out-of-stock messages were up by 169 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Adobe.

The average selling price over Black Friday weekend was up by 11 percent compared to last year.

A mix of pandemic-driven supply chain slowdowns and higher consumer demand for goods has led retailers to drive down promotions into the holiday shopping season. The average selling price over Black Friday weekend was up by 11 percent compared to last year, and the average discount was down by 26 percent, according to Salesforce. Partly as a result of decreased promotions and price inflation, shopping cart totals increased even as total transactions decreased. Retail brands averaged 8 percent fewer purchases this Black Friday compared to last year, according to the shopper analytics firm Bluecore.

More shoppers are turning to new installment payment services to manage their costlier holiday shopping carts, according to Adobe. "Buy now, pay later" services recorded a revenue jump of 21 percent from last year on Cyber Monday, with orders up by about 1 percent.

M.K. England, a shopper in Scottsville, Virginia, said she started her holiday shopping in October because she was worried about shipping delays and product shortages. 

“I’ve done a lot more in-person shopping this year, so shipping hasn’t been much of a concern,” she said. “There is only one thing I ordered that I’m not sure will get here in time.”

Over the course of the pandemic, she has done the majority of her shopping online. But this holiday season, she is looking to support local brick-and-mortar businesses. 

“I hate crowds, but this year with everything going on I thought it was safer to get some things in person,” she said. “And with the effects of the pandemic, I wanted to support local businesses even more.”