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Black Friday Isn't The Big Shopping Day That It Used To Be


Somewhere on this Black Friday this morning, someone listening to this program right now is on their way to a big Black Friday sale. And if it's you, good luck. With low unemployment and a strong stock market, we might expect this holiday shopping season to go gangbusters. But economists actually expect a modest holiday shopping season for retailers. NPR's Sonari Glinton is out with the shoppers. Sonari, where are you?

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Well, I'm actually at NPR West but I have been...

INSKEEP: Oh, OK, you have been out with the shoppers? Got you.

GLINTON: ...Yes, I've been shopping all night long.

INSKEEP: Now wait a minute, you didn't say you were talking to shoppers just now. You said you've been shopping. Are you shopping?

GLINTON: I've been shopping and talking to shoppers (laughter).

INSKEEP: Are you allowed to say what you bought, or you're buying gifts for people and you got keep it on the down low?

GLINTON: Gifts on the down low, Steve. And I'm - one of the things I'm lucky to report to you besides the gifts that I've purchased is that Black Friday is less important. It has jumped the shark. And it's in part because we've begun doing our shopping earlier - Black Friday, Thanksgiving - and even this week there were some deep deals.

I met Gail and Axel Otero, who were out very, very late last night. And this is what drives retailers crazy. They were out shopping, enjoying the lights, but they weren't buying because they'd done it online.

GAIL OTERO: You avoid the crowd. You avoid the parking, the hassle, the - and you get better specials online.

GLINTON: How long have you been coming out to see the lights and then going and shopping online when you get home?

AXEL OTERO: Five years.

G OTERO: Yeah, at least.

GLINTON: Sean Milan stopped by Macy's and Nordstrom Rack. He says after years of shopping on Black Friday, he doesn't get nearly as excited because he's learned what any retail analyst will tell you. Black Friday is good for retailers, but not necessarily for consumers.

SEAN MILAN: Most Black Fridays unless you're, like, really buying electronics, like, at Target or, like, Best Buy or something like that, the deals really aren't, like, deals. They're pretty much the same stuff that you would pretty much get every year.

HOWARD DAVIDOWITZ: Is Black Friday far less important than it used to be? Well, of course it is.

GLINTON: That's Howard Davidowitz. He's a retail analyst. I got him on the phone before I came shopping. He says the consumer has gotten smarter. They shop for deals online. Davidowitz says, though, people will still come for the spectacle.

DAVIDOWITZ: And lots of people will be out there crazily standing at 2 o'clock in the morning in lines and charging into the stores, which will be totally insane. But Black Friday will still be a very important day, just not what it used to be.

GLINTON: Over the last few years, analysts such as Davidowitz say something has changed in the minds of shoppers such as Karen Kearns.

KAREN KEARNS: Over the last three years, it probably clicked in my brain that shopping online was more convenient.

GLINTON: She makes me think of that old Groucho joke. It's so crowded no one ever goes there anymore.

KEARNS: When my kids were small, I went to Black Friday a lot. And it's just too crazy to go.

SUCHARITA MULPURU: Black Friday is definitely not as big of a deal as it was in years past for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the growth of e-commerce and online sales.

GLINTON: Sucharita Mulpuru is chief retail strategist at Shoptalk. She says there's not just a problem with Black Friday overall, but this Black Friday in particular.

MULPURU: All indicators suggest that retail should be going gangbusters. It should be an awesome holiday season because unemployment is low. Consumer confidence should be high. Just the economy overall is doing very, very well.

GLINTON: But Mulpuru says it's not because of the election. That's the reason shoppers gave in a survey. More than a third said that they plan to pull back on shopping this year because they were worried about the results.

MULPURU: And in particular, the economic groups that have expressed the greatest likelihood to pull back on spending are actually some of the lower income demographics. And that is likely to also adversely impact Black Friday sales.

GLINTON: It's consumers who make under $50,000 who are most likely to hold back according to Mulpuru. Those are the people who are looking for those deep black Friday deals.

INSKEEP: Wow. You realize what an effect this election has had on people's view of the future and of the present. So we know who's holding back, Sonari. Who's likely to succeed? What retailers are likely to win this Friday?

GLINTON: Luxury car sales are up. And I reported earlier this week about luxury SUVs. And then there's...

INSKEEP: Oh, the people at the top of the income scale are feeling fine?

GLINTON: Yeah, exactly. It's - essentially it's the tale of two countries. It's the middle that's doing poorly. And it's the people at the top that are going to do well, but they're not necessarily going to make up for that group at the bottom who's said that they're going to pull back their spending because of the election and the uncertainty. So it turns out that this holiday season is going to turn into a wash essentially according to the retail analysts.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to Howard Davidowitz.

DAVIDOWITZ: Who'll do, you know, the worst? Middle-level stores like Sears And Penney's because the middle class is destroyed. And department stores who are anchors in malls and the malls are doing poorly. So don't look for department stores to do great. Look for people to trade down because the middle class is poorer.

GLINTON: And it turns out that Black Friday, the thing - you know, the crazy, nutty Black Friday deals - that's gone at least for now.

INSKEEP: Sonari, thanks very much.

GLINTON: It was a pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sonari Glinton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.

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