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Shopping season officially starts, but most get head start

Major retailers opened their doors Friday morning for the traditional Christmas shopping season kick off replete with advertised specials and instore sales, the lead-off to a weekend spree that includes days focused on online sales, local businesses and even nonprofits.

Friday is the first among five of the busiest shopping days of the year, according to national and international retail organizations. The week now includes Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday with Sunday as yet unclaimed.

With nearly every major retailer closed for Thanksgiving, doors reopened between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. at most locations on Friday, with some customers standing in line for first shot at the best deals.

Gone, however, are the halcyon days of crowds ringing around the stores hours before opening, toting snacks and vacuum flasks filled with hot chocolate and perhaps a touch of peppermint schnapps .

Just a decade ago, stores offered blow-out early morning sales that began as early as 4 a.m. and featured store managers and staff handing out grab bags and gifts to shoppers, dozens of whom brought lawn chairs, sleeping bags and hot refreshments to line up in the early morning dark outside of store doors for the big holiday kick off.

“It’s not like it was,” said one Friday shopper, who declined to give her name. “My family used to line up outside of Fashion Square Mall. It was kind of a tradition.”

Regardless, an estimated 66% of holiday shoppers surveyed earlier this month by the National Retail Federation planned to shop this weekend. That’s an estimated 158.3 million shoppers, about two million more cart-pushers than last year’s pandemic-addled shopping season and about 7 million less than pre-COVID in 2019.

This year’s shopping season started before skeletons and ghosts were cleared from the store shelves and front yards. Online Black Friday sales began showing up in email boxes before All Hallows Eve, hawking everything from CBD oil to laptop computers. Both electronic and street-side mailboxes were hit with offers and pleas, sales and specials weeks before Thanksgiving.

According the federation’s survey, 61% of shoppers began their spree before November. That’s up from 51% from 10 years ago. The survey found 46% started earlier this year than usual with most completing more than a quarter of their shopping by the first week of November.

“Black Friday stopped being a one-day event years ago, and this year some consumers started shopping for Christmas as early as Halloween,” said Matthew Shay, president of the industry’s National Retail Federation.

Regardless, Shay said stores can expect a solid customer response.

“We’re expecting another record-breaking holiday season this year and Thanksgiving weekend will play a major role as it always has,” he said. “Nonetheless, consumers are starting earlier than ever to be sure they can get what they want, when they want it, at a price they want to pay.”

The federation predicts that retail holiday sales at stores, online and at other locations will increase between 11% and 15% this year. People plan to drop between $218.3 billion and $226.2 billion on purchases, the majority of which are likely to be made online.

That’s up from $196.7 billion in 2020.

The federation’s annual shopper survey conducted earlier this month shows an estimated 108 million customers planned on being in the stores Friday morning with 58.1 million on Small Business Saturday, 31.2 million on Sunday and 62.8 million on Cyber Monday.

Black Friday became a tradition across the country decades ago as families went out to start their Christmas shopping. The amount of sales would push retailers away from red-ink deficits into black-ink profits for the year, giving the day its name.

The increase in online shopping led to special Cyber Monday sales in 2005 and in 2010 Small Business Saturday was kicked off by American Express and retail organizations.

The events expanded with pre-Thanksgiving sales, Thanksgiving Day sales and bargains offered throughout the weekend.

Although it’s the top dog in the holiday shopping pack, Black Friday is the only Thanksgiving weekend sale date to be among the nation’s top five.

So-called Super Saturday shopping, the last Saturday before Christmas, is the second-biggest day for grabbing gifts, followed by the day before the night before Christmas on Dec. 23.

The fourth biggest day for retail splurging is the second Saturday in December, Dec. 11, and the fifth is the day after Christmas.


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