As the holiday shopping seasons begins in earnest over the Thanksgiving weekend, we’re spread out over the United States, capturing what the deal-seeking rush looks like this year.
• A humming economy does not necessarily mean consumers are planning to ready to open their wallets a little more.
• But that might be the best argument for bargain hunting. When will your favorite store open? There’s a list below you can check. Twice.
• What drives people to stand in a Black Friday line? Ask the man known as Dr. Queue.
The millions of deal-seeking shoppers who jam malls and store aisles over the next few days will be doing so in what is by most measures the best economy in a decade. The unemployment rate, at 4.1 percent, is at its lowest level since the Clinton administration. The stock market is soaring. Even this fall’s hurricanes could not upend a second-consecutive quarter of solid economic growth.
But two questions loom over the holiday shopping season: How free will Americans be with their spending when wage growth remains anemic? And how much of that money will they spend in stores, given the continuing shift toward online shopping?
Over all, Americans appear confident in their economic prospects. The University of Michigan on Wednesday said consumer sentiment ticked down in November but remained close to its highest level since 2004. A separate survey conducted for The New York Times this month by the online polling firm SurveyMonkey likewise found that confidence was high and stable — neither survey has moved much in response to political turmoil in Washington or crises overseas.
“This isn’t something that’s bouncing around a lot,” said Jon Cohen, vice president of survey research for SurveyMonkey. “People aren’t rushing to save money they way they were during the downturn.”
But that confidence may not translate into booming holiday sales. Most Americans plan to spend the same on their holiday shopping as last year, or less, according to the survey; only 12 percent plan to spend more. Diane Swonk, an independent economist in Chicago, said she expected a strong shopping season but one that might be tempered somewhat by the lag in wage growth, which has consistently fallen short of economists’ expectations.
“The question still is, will we get the wage gains?” Ms. Swonk said. “It is something we’re still holding our breath on, especially among lower-income households.”
Still, those concerns are unlikely to keep American shoppers from taking advantage of the Black Friday deals central to many retailers’ strategies. Two-thirds of Americans plan to shop over the long Thanksgiving weekend, according to SurveyMonkey, and nearly a quarter plan to do all or most of their holiday shopping in that period.
Whether they do so in stores is another matter. More than a third of holiday shoppers said they planned to make most of their purchases online this year, a trend that cuts across ages, education levels and other demographic categories. And in an indication of the challenge facing retailers, two-thirds of online shoppers said they planned to make most of their purchases from a single site: Amazon.
“As shopping moves increasingly online, Amazon becomes an increasingly dominant force,” Mr. Cohen said.
The shift toward online retailers also means that Black Friday is not the economic indicator that it once was. Retailers — both online and brick-and-mortar — are increasingly offering deals days or even weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, and consumers have learned that the best prices on some items come later in the holiday season.
“People have gotten so they game the system,” Ms. Swonk said. “These are savvy consumers now. They’ve learned to play the game.” — BEN CASSELMAN
We’ve got you covered here.
Your local Walmart is open now (it doesn’t matter where you are, this is pretty much a given). Kmart and two big outdoors emporiums, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, were open this morning before you got the turkey in the oven.
Other major retailers including Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s opted to wait until the late afternoon.
One retailer that chose to stay closed on Thanksgiving? T-Mobile, which had opened last year. John Legere, the mobile carrier’s chief executive, said he wanted everyone to “give thanks with family, friends and loved ones.”
Don’t worry. T-Mobile will be ready to help you “bright and early” on Black Friday. — TIFFANY HSU
What on Earth possesses people to hit stores when they could be home sleeping off a turkey dinner? The psychology is complicated.
Richard Larson, a professor at M.I.T. who has spent years studying line behavior — he’s known as Dr. Queue in academic circles — said that the enthusiasm for Black Friday lines “makes sense, in some weird way.”
The once-a-year lines are “exhilarating,” he said. “They’re the kind you might tell your grandchildren about.”
The scarcity of bargains means shoppers can enjoy a sense of accomplishment after braving the lines.
“People’s willingness to wait is, in some sense, proportional to the perceived value of whatever they’re waiting to acquire,” Professor Larson said. “Even if they don’t know what the line is for, they reason that whatever’s at the end of it must be fantastically valuable.”
Is that enough to lure Professor Larson into this weekend’s lines? Nope. “It confuses me,” he said. — TIFFANY HSU