Black Friday crowds thin in subdued start to U.S. holiday shopping
By Nandita Bose and Nathan Layne
CHICAGO/PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - America's annual Black Friday shopping extravaganza was short on fireworks this year as U.S. retailers' discounts on electronics, clothing and other holiday gifts failed to draw big crowds to stores and shopping malls.
Major retail stocks including Best Buy and Wal-Mart closed lower while Target, picked out by one analyst for its promotion strategy, saw its shares tick up.
Bargain hunters found relatively little competition compared with previous years. Some had already shopped Thursday evening, reflecting a new normal of U.S. holiday shopping, where stores open up with deals on Thanksgiving itself, rather than waiting until Black Friday.
Retailers "have taken the sense of urgency out for consumers by spreading their promotions throughout the year and what we are seeing is a result of that," said Jeff Simpson, director of the retail practice at Deloitte. Traffic in stores was light on Friday, while Thursday missed his expectations, he said.
As much as 20 percent of holiday shopping is expected to be done over the Thanksgiving weekend this year, analysts said. But the four days are not considered a strong indicator for the entire season. A slow start last year led to deeper promotions and a shopping rush in the final ten days of December.
Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote), told Reuters he was not surprised that a store would see thinner crowds on Friday after it kicked off Black Friday deals on Thursday night.
Suntrust Robinson Humphrey analysts were more blunt, calling Thursday a "bust". "Members of our team who went to the malls first had no problem finding parking or navigating stores," he wrote in a note.
The Macy's store at Water Tower Place mall on a rainy Chicago morning saw thin crowds in the early hours of Friday. Later in the morning, more than 1,000 protesters clogged Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping corridor. Continued...