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Stores Kick Off Black Friday           11/26 06:14

   

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Retailers are expected to usher in the unofficial start to 
the holiday shopping season Friday with bigger crowds than last year in a 
closer step toward normalcy. But the fallout from the pandemic continues to 
weigh on businesses and shoppers' minds.

   Buoyed by solid hiring, healthy pay gains and substantial savings, customers 
are returning to stores and splurging on all types of items. But the spike has 
also resulted in limited selection across the board as suppliers and retailers 
have been caught flat-footed.

   Shortages of shipping containers and truckers have helped to delay 
deliveries while inflation continues to creep. The combination of not finding 
the right item at the right price -- in addition to a labor shortage that makes 
it more difficult for businesses to respond to customer needs -- could make for 
a less festive mood.

   Shoppers are expected to pay on average of between 5% to 17% more for toys, 
clothing, appliances, TVs and others purchases on Black Friday this year 
compared with last year, according to Aurelien Duthoit, senior sector advisor 
at Allianz Research. TVs will see the highest price hike on average, up 17% 
from a year ago, according to the research firm. That's because whatever 
discounts available will be applied to goods that are already expensive.

   "I think it is going to be a messy holiday season," said Neil Saunders, 
managing director at GlobalData Retail. "It will be a bit frustrating for 
retailers, consumers and the workers. We are going to see long lines. We are 
going to see messier stores. We are going to see delays as you collect online 
orders."

   For years, Black Friday has been losing importance. Since 2011, stores 
jumpstarted the holiday shopping season by opening their doors on Thanksgiving 
to compete with Amazon and other rising online threats. But the shift merely 
cannibalized Black Friday sales. The shopping bonanza was further diluted when 
stores started marketing Black Friday sales for the full week and then later 
for the month.

   The pandemic further diminished the importance of the Black Friday event, 
though some experts still believe it will again be the busiest day of the year. 
Last year, retailers started to offer the big holiday sales earlier in October 
in an effort to spread out shopping for safety reasons and to smooth out online 
shipping peaks. They also got rid of the Thanksgiving Day in-store shopping 
event and pushed all their discounts online. This year, retailers are embracing 
a similar strategy, though they are now pushing holiday discounts in stores as 
well.

   Despite all the challenges, experts believe that sales for the Thanksgiving 
week and overall season will be strong.

   U.S. retail sales, excluding auto and gas, from this past Monday through 
Sunday are expected to increase 10% from last year and 12.2% from the 2019 
holiday season, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures overall 
retail sales across all payment types including cash and check.

   Online sales are forecast to increase 7.1% for that week, a slowdown from 
the massive 46.4% gain in the same period a year ago when shoppers collectively 
pivoted to the internet instead of shopping in person, 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.

   Sales on Black Friday are expected to surge 20% from a year ago as store 
traffic comes back.

   For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation, the 
nation's largest retail trade group, predicts that sales will increase between 
8.5% and 10.5%. Holiday sales increased 8.2% in 2020 when shoppers, locked down 
during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home 
goods.

 
 
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