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While shoppers returned to department stores, malls and big box retailers across the country to score deals for the first Black Friday since the coronavirus vaccine became readily available in the U.S., crowds are reportedly not measuring up to the number of people who turned out for the post-Thanksgiving sales in-person before the pandemic.
A mother and daughter shopping at a Houston, Texas, outlet mall early Friday told local news station ABC13 that they hadn’t seen “the traditional pushing and shoving and large crowds” that usually come with Black Friday, saying it looked like “normal, everyday shopping.”
Shoppers also turned out to big-box stores in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as early as 5 a.m. to snag deals, but local newspaper the Star Tribune described the shopping as “less frenzied” than previous years as more people turn to online shopping ahead of the holidays.
At a Wal-Mart in Chicago, Francisco Martinez—one of more than 100 people who got in line before 5 a.m. despite the freezing weather—told Reuters he thought he had a good chance at getting the discounted television he had his eye on, saying the big box store isn’t “as crowded as it used to be.”
Bargain hunters also swarmed retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and stores at local malls in Syracuse, New York, according to local station WSYR-TV, but customers said crowds were smaller and cash register lines were shorter, with Black Friday shopper Ryan Maccombie telling the station the stores were “a lot less busy” than he expected.
Despite smaller crowds, Black Friday sales had a strong start Friday morning with spending up 12.1% compared to 2020, according to early estimates from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks retail spending.
Many of the shoppers told media outlets they believed the drop in crowds was influenced by retailers offering online discounts ahead of Black Friday, which may have influenced people to stay home and shop virtually instead, a nationwide trend observed last year.
Many major retailers shut for Black Friday shopping last year amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the U.S. While most opened their doors for the country’s traditionally biggest shopping day this year, more and more stores did away with opening Thanksgiving evening including Target, which announced it would shutter on the holiday for good. Retailers have tried to make up for lost sales by expanding online shopping and curbside pickup and by launching discounts well ahead of Black Friday to draw in shoppers. Last year, online sales from November 1 through December 24 surged by 47.2% over the same period in 2019, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.