Buyers turn up in smaller numbers at major retailers as online deals and coronavirus surge dull enthusiasm for Black Friday trips to malls.

Black Friday shoppers file into Best Buy as doors open early morning in Mishawaka, Indiana on November 27, 2020.
Black Friday shoppers file into Best Buy as doors open early morning in Mishawaka, Indiana on November 27, 2020. (AP)

Masked shoppers have turned up in smaller numbers at major US retailers including Macy's Inc, Walmart Inc and Best Buy on Black Friday as early online deals and worry about the spike in Covid-19 cases dulled enthusiasm for trips to the mall.

From Walmart Inc to Best Buy, retailers have overhauled Black Friday shopping, assigning clerks in orange vests to serve as traffic cops, taking shoppers' temperatures and offering "grab-and-go" merchandise, including toys, bikes and kitchen appliances to discourage lingering in store aisles.

Most major retailers closed on Thanksgiving Day this year in a nod to the stress endured by their workers during a global health pandemic. 

Walmart opened stores at 10:00 GMT (5 am local) on Friday, directing shoppers to turn right upon entering and proceed along main aisles to shop deals before paying at registers surrounded by plastic barriers.

Best Buy opened at 10:00 GMT (5 am local) and Target, which introduced contactless self-checkout and doubled the number of parking spots for its contactless "Drive Up" pick-up service this holiday season opened at 12:00 GMT (7 am local).

Traditionally, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has launched the holiday shopping season in the United States, with retailers offering steep discounts and turning a significant profit.

Gamers form longest-lines

Shoppers with empty carts lined up a socially-distant six feet apart before the Walmart in LaGrange, Kentucky opened, but crowds appeared down overall. 

Stores selling popular computer game consoles had some of the longest lines as die-hard gamers tried to land Sony Corp's PlayStation 5.

Brothers-in-law Gabriel Rojas, 24, and Juan Cabrera, 24 were waiting in line at GameStop in New York's Bronx borough, since 07:00 GMT (2 am local) on Friday, hopeful to snatch up a PS5.

 They were unsuccessful as there were some 20 people ahead of them and the retailer only had two left in stock, they said.

"We're bummed" said Rojas. "But that’s ok."

During this pandemic-ridden year, major retailers from Target Corp to Kohl's Corp and Walmart  rolled out online winter holiday promotions in October to capture any holiday-related spending as early as possible.

Overall, the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts US holiday retail sales will increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019, for a total of $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion. 

That compares with an average annual increase of 2.5 percent over the past five years.

Shoppers wait for a computer games store to open on Black Friday, at the Tysons Corner Center, in Tysons, Virginia, US, November 27, 2020
Shoppers wait for a computer games store to open on Black Friday, at the Tysons Corner Center, in Tysons, Virginia, US, November 27, 2020 (Reuters)

'Not worth the trade-off'

A Walmart spokeswoman said the world’s largest retailer was not selling traditional "hot-ticket doorbuster" items in stores this Black Friday. 

But even as health officials around the globe encouraged people to stay home and shop online, Walmart set aside from some deals only for shoppers who came into its stores—advertising items including "in-store only" savings on $5 packs of Wonder Nation’s girls' and boys' underwear and socks. The spokeswoman declined to comment on the ads.

Lindsey Cox, 43, of Thomasville, North Carolina, said she noticed Walmart’s advertised in-store price for Christmas gnomes was much lower than on Inc. 

But she said she doesn’t plan to visit Walmart stores on Black Friday.

"I could not justify going into the store right now," the stay-at-home mother of three said. The savings are "not worth the trade-off" of potentially being exposed to coronavirus, she said.

On November 19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deemed "going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving" as a high-risk activity.

Online shopping

More than half of US shoppers expect to shop online on Black Friday, despite 75 percent of consumers taking advantage of seasonal sales, which started earlier this year, an Adobe Analytics survey predicts.

However, 55 percent of consumers reported that sales on the Black Friday weekend feel less special due to promotions in the run-up to the event, according to Adobe.

Adobe expects Thanksgiving Day to come in below $6 billion in total sales, with Black Friday set to cross $10 billion in sales.

The volume of Black Friday payment transactions in Britain as of 0900 GMT was down 13.2 percent versus last year, initial data from Barclaycard showed, with retailers of non-essential goods still shut and many in the sector spreading out online discounts throughout the month.

The end of England's second national lockdown on December 2 is predicted to see a surge in transactions, surpassing Black Friday, Barclaycard, which processes nearly one pound ($1.33) in every three pounds spent in the United Kingdom, said.

Source: Reuters