Black Fri­day ‘pil­grim­age’

Sales soar on­line, but in-store tech hit or miss

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - MONEY - Charisse Jones “The phone has be­come the re­mote con­trol of our daily lives.” Rob Garf Con­tribut­ing: Dalvin Brown, Eli Blu­men­thal, Janna Her­ron, Jef­fer­son Gra­ham, Michelle Mal­tais

NEW YORK – At an Old Navy store in the heart of New York City, where lines snaked around the first floor, Ros­alyn Lewis took one look, then headed for the short cut.

“The mo­bile check­out was per­fect,” Lewis, a 52-year-old home care worker, said of the down­stairs kiosks where a cou­ple of cus­tomers at most waited to make pur­chases. “One, two, three and you’re out. I saw the long line up­stairs and said ‘No way am I stay­ing.’ ”

Shop­pers and re­tail­ers turned to tech in the kick­off to what is typ­i­cally the busiest shop­ping weekend of the year, from apps that pointed the way to the best deals to de­vices that could help weary cus­tomers skip long lines.

The Gap, Old Navy, Ba­nana Repub­lic and Ath­leta had em­ploy­ees at most of their stores tot­ing de­vices that could check out cus­tomers on the spot.

Some Wal­mart stores also had em­ploy­ees at the ready to swipe credit and debit cards in store aisles, as well as a dig­i­tal map within the store app that could guide shop­pers to the ex­act shelf where they could grab the gift they were look­ing for. Just for Black Fri­day, the map was color-coded to make the search even eas­ier.

And for the first time, mo­bile check­out was avail­able at ev­ery Macy’s store. But the tech roll­out ap­peared to be hit or miss.

At a sprawl­ing Wal­mart su­per store in Santa Ana, Cal­i­for­nia, there was only one as­so­ciate do­ing mo­bile check­out Fri­day morn­ing. He was in the elec­tron­ics sec­tion, stand­ing be­hind a stan­dard reg­is­ter in­stead of in the aisle, with nine peo­ple backed up wait­ing to pay for their pur­chases.

In a mid­town Man­hat­tan Gap, where more than 50 peo­ple waited pa­tiently, there was no way to avoid the lines be­cause mo­bile check­out de­vices were “down,” ac­cord­ing to sales staff.

“We aren’t go­ing to wait (in line) for two hours for a hat,” Danny Alexan­der, 34, said to his 6-year old son Ju­nior as they left the store.

And when it came to the new ways to pay, there ap­peared to be a learn­ing curve. The Macy’s app wasn’t al­le­vi­at­ing lines at the re­tailer’s store in the View­mont Mall in Dick­son City, Pennsylvania, for in­stance, where many cus­tomers queu­ing up to make a pur­chase were un­aware of the op­tion.

“I think cus­tomers are not us­ing it as much to­day as I know they will in the fu­ture,” Macy’s CEO Jeff Gen­nette said Fri­day in an in­ter­view.

Still, mo­bile is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a key part of the shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, from check­ing prices to mak­ing pur­chases to get­ting feed­back from friends on whether that item on sale re­ally is a bar­gain. On Thanks­giv­ing, when on­line sales jumped 28 per­cent over last year to $3.7 bil­lion, al­most $1 out of ev­ery $3 was spent via smart­phone, ac­cord­ing to Adobe An­a­lyt­ics.

The traf­fic flow­ing through mo­bile de­vices rep­re­sented 68 per­cent of all on­line traf­fic on Thanks­giv­ing Day, ac­cord­ing to Sales­force. And 54 per­cent of all dig­i­tal or­ders that day were made through smart­phones, the most of any day so far this year and roughly 30 per­cent more than in 2017.

“The phone has be­come the re­mote con­trol of our daily lives,” says Rob Garf, Sales­force vice pres­i­dent of in­dus­try strat­egy and in­sights.

But that doesn’t mean stores are be­ing left be­hind, Garf said, not­ing 83 per­cent of con­sumers be­tween ages 18 and 44 are ex­pected to use a mo­bile phone while shop­ping in a phys­i­cal store.

“The phone ac­tu­ally acts as the thread that weaves to­gether the dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence and the phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence,” Garf says.

Kyra Pullen, 25, who headed to a Tar­get in Hack­en­sack, New Jersey, to check out the video games, says the Tar­get app comes in handy when she’s look­ing for the best deal.

“It usu­ally gives you the coupons that are in store,” said Pullen who lives in Philadel­phia. “so it re­ally helps you to see what the prices are and if you re­ally want to buy it now or buy it later.’’

She chose to buy a Nin­tendo Switch and Play Sta­tion 4 on the spot for her­self and her fi­ancé. “We just got en­gaged,’’ she said. “He bought me a ring so I fig­ured I should at least try to match.’’

It’s crunch time for the re­tail in­dus­try. Nearly 20 per­cent of re­tail sales last year occurred dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, and it’s ex­pected that shop­pers will spend roughly $717 bil­lion to $721 bil­lion this year, an uptick of 4.3 to 4.8 per­cent over 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion.

Black Fri­day has tra­di­tion­ally been a key date, bringing in more cash than any other as shop­pers rise be­fore dawn to grab door-bust­ing deals. But it’s lost some of its mojo, sur­passed in sales by the Satur­day be­fore Christ­mas each year since 2014. Sales that start days and weeks ear­lier also ap­pear to be tak­ing a toll.

As the sun came up on the West Coast on Fri­day, a line slowly gath­ered out­side a Tar­get in Los An­ge­les, but it was notably smaller – and sleepier – than the one gath­ered the night be­fore.

That Thanks­giv­ing evening, at a Tar­get about 2 miles down the road in Cul­ver City, shop­pers were greeted by a team of cheer­ing sales as­so­ci­ates as they walked in. On Black Fri­day, there was one em­ployee and a se­cu­rity guard at the door. No one was cheer­ing.

Black Fri­day con­tin­ues to have a vi­tal role to play, Macy’s Gen­nette says. “It is a crit­i­cal bench­mark in the sea­son, be it on on­line or in store,” he says. “Black Fri­day is re­ally an Amer­i­can pil­grim­age.”

Ama­zon also said it was hav­ing a ban­ner day, say­ing sales were set to sur­pass the num­ber of pur­chases on Black Fri­day in 2017, with shop­pers buy­ing more than 1 mil­lion toys and more than 700,000 fash­ion prod­ucts in nine hours.

Sales­force vice pres­i­dent of in­dus­try strat­egy and in­sights

AP

Cus­tomers at this Wal­mart in Ben­tonville, Ark., got an early start on Black Fri­day deals by shop­ping on Thanks­giv­ing.

GETTY IM­AGES

This Old Navy in New York City of­fered shop­pers mo­bile check­out.

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