Black Friday isn’t what it used to be.
The lines at dawn and crowds at shopping centers are largely gone, replaced by online shopping and stores that offer deep discounts starting Thanksgiving night.
At Sacramento’s Arden Fair mall – home to Apple, Nordstrom and Victoria’s Secret – there was plenty of parking Friday morning and about as many people as there might be on a busy weekend any other time of year.
It made for a more relaxed shopping experience, but those who enjoy Black Friday’s traditional craziness said they were somewhat disappointed.
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John Dollson sat with his granddaughter Mya, 10, outside the JCPenney store in the mall while his wife shopped for his Christmas gifts. He said he and his family had gone to a Target in Elk Grove at 6 a.m. Friday only to find it mostly deserted.
“There was no one there. I was the fourth person in line,” he said. “We used to be in the lines in the crowd having a great time.”
Dollson said he thought stores opening on Thanksgiving night were to blame for the thinned-out crowds Friday, along with online shopping. When his daughter shops, he said, “Everything comes in the mail.”
Rischel Yeh roamed Arden Fair with her two sisters. Asked why they’d brave the mall on Black Friday versus shopping on their computers, she said, “What’s fun about that?”
Yeh said she and her sisters look forward to the Black Friday tradition of going to brick-and-mortar stores, where they enjoy the “camaraderie” and sense of adventure. They’d arrived at the mall by 8 a.m., filled their car with goods, unloaded it at home and returned for another round of shopping.
Yeh’s sister, Kim Nguyen, appreciated that the mall wasn’t as packed as in years past. “This is really pleasant,” she said. Her third sister, Trinity Nguyen, chimed in, “It’s not like people fighting.”
Mall spokesman Nathan Spradlin said there hadn’t been any serious criminal incidents at Arden Fair as of noon Friday.
Folsom police said a woman was robbed at gunpoint early Friday morning while waiting for stores to open at the Palladio at Broadstone shopping complex.
The Arden shopping center was expected to host 80,000 to 90,000 people Friday, a reduction from the prior year, Spradlin said.
“We’re seeing a slight decrease of 3 to 6 percent year over year,” he said.
Shoppers are still buying, but they’re spreading their purchases among traditional stores and online retailers. They’re also coming at different times of day, including Thursday night and later on Friday, he said.
For years, Black Friday was regarded as a kind of retail warfare.
Brick-and-mortar store operators offered deep discounts, marathon shopping hours and dozens of other enticements to draw shoppers to their doors for what was considered the official start of the holiday shopping season.
Shoppers lined up before stores opened, often in the cold and fog, to get the best “doorbuster” specials.
The rapid growth of online shopping has changed the game. Plenty of Sacramento-area consumers and millions of Americans nationwide hit the stores Friday, but the Christmas rush has been diffused among multiple outlets and over a broader span of time.
The National Retail Federation, a trade group for the retail industry, estimated that 164 million Americans are planning to shop or are considering shopping during the extended Thanksgiving weekend.
However, the diversity of shopping trends prompted the NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics to include Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday in their holiday estimate for the first time ever.
“This year, we updated our survey to more accurately capture consumer behavior throughout the entire shopping weekend,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Consumers will benefit from competitive promotions both in stores and online lasting the course of the weekend, allowing them to find the best gifts at the lowest prices.”
The NRF projected that 115 million consumers will shop in some fashion on Black Friday alone.
Many shoppers, however, now start long before Black Friday rolls around. By mid-November, the NRF projected that 56 percent of Americans had already started their holiday shopping.
That’s partly because retailers are offering discounted deals well before and after Thanksgiving, not just on Black Friday. Many major retailers opened their doors Thursday evening, offering traditional Black Friday-type deals such as hundreds of dollars off flat-screen TVs.
Katherine Cullen, NRF’s director of retail and consumer insights, said consumers are “not necessarily wrapping up any faster. It’s actually just a longer holiday season…we’re seeing.”
Overall, the NRF expects a solid holiday shopping season this year, buoyed by a generally favorable economy and high employment.
The NRF and Insight have projected that holiday retail sales in November and December will increase between 3.6 percent and 4 percent to $678.75 billion to $682 billion.
The NRF/Prosper survey predicts that U.S. consumers will spend an average of $967.13 this year, up 3.4 percent.
A random sampling of pre-Thanksgiving shoppers at Arden Fair, Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights and Westfield Galleria at Roseville reflected changing trends that have occurred over the past decade.
All 26 shoppers questioned said they would do at least some shopping online this holiday season – a first in the recent history of informal local interviews by The Sacramento Bee. However, most also said they planned to shop local stores and malls right up to Christmas Eve.
“Yes, I’m one of those crazy people out there before the sun comes up on (Black Friday),” said Debbie Green, a stay-at-home mom who was browsing clothes racks at Arden Fair. “I just love it. It gets me in the Christmas spirit.”
At Sunrise Mall in Citrus Heights, Carmichael resident Tom Day said he’d “be stopping in a store on Christmas Eve if that’s what it takes. I have to see it, touch it, before I buy. I don’t want to disappoint my wife or the kids.”
At Arden Fair, spokesman Spradlin said retailers that are doing well have found the right balance between storefronts and websites. He cited the Apple store, which lets customers try out its products and also provides technical support. Apple is happy if it sells iPhones or iPads to customers through other retailers, he said.
“It doesn’t matter where they buy,” he said.