Black Friday ‘pilgrimage’
Sales soar online, but in-store tech hit or miss
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
Customers at this Walmart in Bentonville, Ark., got an early start on Black Friday deals by shopping on Thanksgiving.
This Old Navy in New York City offered shoppers mobile checkout.