Online spending by US bargain hunters crosses $1.4b

Black Friday shoppers grabbing television sets at a store in Sao Paulo, Brazil, yesterday. Many brick-and-mortar retailers around the world offered deep discounts to lure shoppers.
Black Friday shoppers grabbing television sets at a store in Sao Paulo, Brazil, yesterday. Many brick-and-mortar retailers around the world offered deep discounts to lure shoppers.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Shoppers from the United States and Britain to Greece and Australia splurged on deeply discounted goods during the annual Black Friday sales, with online purchases surging even as brick- and-mortar retailers fought back.

Online spending by US bargain- hunters climbed to above US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) by Thanksgiving evening on Thursday, according to Adobe Digital Index, surging almost 14 per cent from a year ago and reflecting a broader trend away from brick-and-mortar shopping.

At the start of the first holiday shopping season since Mr Donald Trump was elected President-elect on Nov 8, US consumers loosened their purse strings and spent US$1.15 billion online between midnight and 5pm US time on Thursday, according to Adobe.

US stores are now opening in the early evening of Thanksgiving on Thursday - instead of in the early hours of the actual Black Friday as in the past - to try and boost in-store sales, while retailers have been offering online deals weeks in advance to cope with lower demand and stiff pricing competition.

"We saw one of our strongest days ever online," chief executive Brian Cornell of discount retailer Target said.

 

"Black" refers to retailers seeing their annual profits blossom from the surge in sales on that day.

In Britain, retailers reported strong online demand in early Black Friday trading, as shoppers chased deals in a spending spree that is expected to top last year's record level. Shoppers there are looking for bargains ahead of an expected rise in prices next year as a weaker pound starts to push up the cost of imports.

In Athens, long queues snaked outside department stores and roads were blocked near malls as thousands of Greeks bucked falling wages and joblessness to join the country's first Black Friday.

Australian retailers also offered deep discounts to lure shoppers.

In the US, some retailers changed tack to lure shoppers to their stores. At a Best Buy store in Alexandria, suburban Washington, a throng of shoppers lined up early to snag "doorbuster" deals. But this year, the once-chaotic ritual had layers of efficiency: Shoppers were given colour-coded tickets guaranteeing they would receive the laptop or 4K television set they came for. The entryway doors were opened just partway so customers had to enter single file instead of in a stampede.

In addition to convenience and service improvements, big-box retailers are looking for ways to turn a trip into more than just an errand.

To fend off the online challenge, old-school retailers will need plenty of shoppers like Ms Tracie Shepherd, who lives in Temple Hills, Maryland. She said she prefers in-store shopping because she likes to be able to pick up items and see them.

And the festive atmosphere does not hurt either. "It is exciting to me," Ms Shepherd said before darting off to buy slippers and a sweatshirt. "It is like my cardio."

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'Online spending by US bargain hunters crosses $1.4b'. Print Edition | Subscribe