On this year’s Black Friday, things almost seemed normal.
“We started out this morning from 6:30,” said Liezen Sambrano, who was enjoying a mid-morning snack with her husband Bryan and daughters Cassey and Kala at Kukui Grove Center. “So far, we’ve been to Macy’s, Walmart and Target.”
Malls and stores reported decent-sized crowds, if not the floods of people that used to fight over the latest toys and electronics — online shopping is much too common for that now, and discounts are both more subdued and spread out over the weeks leading up to Christmas, on both websites and in stores.
“Shopping is fun again!” said Melissa McFerrin-Warrack of KGC. “We had lots of action starting at 8 this morning.”
Out-of-stock items due to supply crunches, higher prices for gas and food and labor shortages that make it more difficult to respond to customers are causing frustrations for shoppers.
“We’re only getting sale items,” Bryan Sambrano said. “There are some good deals out there, and a lot of things are on sale. You can’t beat it.”
The country’s largest mall, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, said nearly 100,000 people had come as of early afternoon Friday, more than double last year but a bit shy of 2019 numbers.
“We had a fantastic start,” said Mall of America Senior Vice President Jill Renslow.
The staffing issues that have hit many retailers and restaurants, however, also affected the mall. It had to trim the hours it was open.
Those shortened hours also hit Kaua‘i, as the island’s largest shopping center opens from 9:30 a.m. and shuts down at 7 p.m. until Dec. 20, when it goes into holiday operating hours of 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Dec. 23.
Overall holiday sales are expected to grow this year. The National Retail Federation predicts a sales increase of 8.5% to 10.5% for all of November and December, after 8% growth in those months in 2020.
While Black Friday has a stronghold on Americans’ imaginations as a day of crazed shopping, it has lost stature over the last decade as stores opened on Thanksgiving and shopping shifted to Amazon and other online retailers. Stores diluted the day’s importance further by advertising Black Friday sales on more and more days.
The pandemic led many retailers to close stores on Thanksgiving Day and push discounts on their websites, starting as early as October. That’s continuing this year, although there are deals in stores as well.
“We had surprises for our early shoppers in the Black Friday tent,” said Sara Miura of Deja Vu Surf Hawai‘i at KGC. “But because of the COVID-19, we had to change the layout. Shoppers now can make their selections in the tent, but checkout is inside the store. We’re concerned about not getting too big crowds.”
Big-box retailers like Walmart, however, aren’t blasting “doorbuster” deals in their ads, said DealNews.com analyst Julie Ramhold. And clothing chains like Victoria’s Secret and Gap are having a harder time managing supply issues. Victoria’s Secret said recently that 45% of its holiday merchandise is still stuck in transit.
“The best deal was at Claire’s,” Liezen Sambrano said. “You get three and three are free. You can’t beat it.”
Bryan Sambrano said the family was still on track to visit Target, The Home Depot and Ace Housemart before ending the day.
“Tools,” he said. “They have some good deals on tools.”
Supply-chain hold-ups are a major concern this year, and both stores and shoppers are trying to find workarounds. Some of the biggest U.S. retailers are rerouting goods to less-congested ports, even chartering their own vessels.
Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said the company is prepared. “We are deep and we are ready,” he said, noting inventory levels are up 20% compared to last year. “We are in good shape.” But many sales floors looked different than in years past, when tall piles of merchandise used to be on display. At Macy’s in Manhattan, gone were the shoes stacked so high shoppers couldn’t reach them.
Kukui Grove shopper Eric Rita said his son Corey and the twins were heading to Macy’s because Macy’s has toys, something that was not available in prior years.
Fears of not being able to get the items they want helped drive people back to physical stores.
“I was waiting to check out and this lady asked me how long I was waiting,” said Charlmaine Bulosan. “Fifteen minutes. That was pretty long to be waiting to pay.”
An employee with Hawaiian Building Maintenance, the contractor for KGC maintenance, said it was pretty crowded with people stopping to rest and enjoy snacks in the food court.
“It’s so nice to see the crowds again,” the worker in charge of sanitizing the food court said. “It’s been a long time since we had good crowds like this.”
Retail workers are worried about their safety because of frustrated shoppers and thin staffing, said Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who said stores should provide security and training on how to handle irate shoppers.
Santa Claus and his ‘ohana, appropriately garbed for the pandemic, also made an early appearance at KGC because the annual Kaua‘i Christmas parade was canceled for the second time because of COVID-19. His early appearance allowed people ample time to make reservations for photos in a COVID-19 environment.
Additionally, McFerrin-Warrack said the Holiday Lights Show will premiere tonight with dancers from the Aloha Dance Studio when mall hours end at 7 p.m. The light show will be offered on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings through Dec. 16. Following that date, the Holiday Light Show will be offered nightly through Dec. 23.
Online shopping remains huge, and sales are expected to rise 7% for the week after the massive 46% gain a year ago, when many shoppers stayed home, according to Mastercard. For the overall holiday season, online sales should increase 10% from a year ago, compared with a 33% increase last year, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.
“What the pandemic did for retail was, it forced them to be better digital retailers,” said Marshal Cohen of market research firm NPD Group.
“Today is for shopping,” said Annette Hashimoto, who was shopping with her two daughters and grandchildren. “Tomorrow, we’ll be selling as part of the Small Business Saturday along with about 20 Kaua‘i Made vendors.”
That means the day after Thanksgiving is no longer what it once was.
Deja Vu Surf Hawai‘i will also make the overnight switch from Black Friday to Small Business Saturday when the tent with surprises for early shoppers and specials featuring Hydro Flask start from 10 a.m.
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.