Last updated: November 23, 2012 10:12 pm

Shoppers scrutinise Black Friday deals

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People rush into Macy's department store as they open at midnight on November 23 2012 in New York©AFP

Americans welcomed the chance to start Black Friday shopping earlier than ever in the biggest retail rush of the year, but some raised doubts over whether discounts were as generous as last year or better than they could get online.

The hordes seeking “door buster” bargains included cash-strapped consumers, pushy competitive shoppers and those who enjoyed the camaraderie of the queues, but analysts forecast only modest sales growth from 2011.

Black Friday weekend spending

Black Friday weekend spending

At the Macy’s department store chain, Terry Lundgren, chief executive, said: “I think [sales] will be similar to last year for this weekend.” Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics said overall shopper numbers were “decent but not eye-opening”.

On Friday morning in Manhattan, a spa employee named Isaura, who had started shopping at 6am, was lugging bags from Old Navy, Gap and Victoria’s Secret as she perused the clothes at JC Penney.

She had spent about $350 – in what she called a “very bad” economy – but said: “You saved more money last year. With the same money I spent now I bought more things. This year I don’t feel the savings.”

While stores tried to outdo each other with advertisements, Michael Appel of AlixPartners, a consultancy, said discounts could be smaller than in 2011 as cautious retailers were keeping lean inventories for the entire holiday season.

“They don’t have a lot of extra stock to sell, so, on the top items, they don’t want to give them away because they may run out of stock,” he said.

Black Friday comes towards the end of a strong year for retail stocks with the S&P retail index rallying 28 per cent so far – more than double the 12 per cent rise in the broader market – but intense competition threatens to erode profits.

Walmart, Toys R Us and Sears opened at 8pm on Thanksgiving night in an effort to grab market share during the traditional start of Christmas shopping.

Walmart said it saw larger crowds than at its midnight opening last year, but it also faced protests at some stores from labour activists, who criticised it for low pay and ruining employees’ Thanksgivings.

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At Target’s store in Brooklyn, which opened at 9pm on Thursday, Gina Flower said she wanted a coffee maker and would then head next door to Best Buy, which opened at midnight, for a Toshiba television priced at $179.

She had concluded that equally good deals were available online, but had brought her two teenage daughters for the spectacle. “People want the thrill of coming to see things. But you’re better off letting your fingers do the walking on the internet.”

For the first time Target and Best Buy have promised to match the lowest prices of some products on Amazon and other ecommerce sites.

While no single product dominated the day, shoppers at Target rushed to grab 50-inch Westinghouse flatscreen TVs – going for $350 – which they dragged across the floor, lugged on shoulders or pushed precariously in trolleys.

Outside with his wife and two televisions, two air mattresses and some crockery, Raul Gutierrez said he was glad to have been able to finish his shopping early. “Now we have the day free tomorrow ... You pick your poison,” he said.

At Toys R Us in Times Square on Thursday night, Yamid Cala, a Colombian tourist, walked away with a PlayStation 3 and other gadgets he had targeted before he left home in Bogotá.

“It’s crazy. They’re really nuts. The queues,” he said of his first Black Friday. “But it’s a great experience.”

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