Black Friday frenzy shifts online

Stores around Britain were serene on Black Friday as consumers shopped from the comfort of their homes and offices.
Stores around Britain were serene on Black Friday as consumers shopped from the comfort of their homes and offices.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Brick-and-mortar stores see less foot traffic as bargain-hunters shun hassle of crowds

NEW YORK • The relative calm that accompanied Black Friday shopping in the United States and Britain this year belied a frenzy for deals as hordes of Christmas shoppers skipped visits to brick-and-mortar stores to shop online over their computers and mobile phones.

Ebay boasted that it was selling two hoverboards, the "it" item of the season, every minute.

Walmart said it had sold so many movies that it would take close to 3,000 years to watch all of them; many of its sales were online. And Amazon saw its biggest sales on a single day in Britain, with more than six million items sold, or the equivalent of around 64 items per second.

Despite the smaller crowds, there were sporadic incidents of violence in the US as shoppers made a beeline for bargain items in limited supply.

Videos captured one particularly aggressive woman snatching a vegetable steamer out of a child's hands in Michigan, while in Texas, there was a riot for televisions on sale.

One man even tried to attack a police officer at the store in El Paso. And a fist fight that broke out between two men at a mall in Kentucky was captured on video.

But on the whole, bargain-hunters found relatively little competition compared with previous years. Some had already shopped on Thursday evening, reflecting a new normal of US holiday shopping, where stores open up with deals on Thanksgiving itself, rather than waiting until Black Friday.

About US$1.73 billion (S$2.4 billion) was spent online on Thanksgiving Day, a 25 per cent increase from last year, according to Adobe Systems, which tracked more than 180 million visits to over 4,500 US retail websites this Thanksgiving. On Black Friday, about US$822 million was spent by 11am, 15 per cent more than last year, the company said.

Adobe expects Black Friday to generate US$2.6 billion in total online sales, a 14 per cent increase compared with the same day last year.

Retail observers say many of those purchases are coming at the expense of trips to physical stores, costing merchants more in shipping and depriving them of the impulse sales they make to shoppers wandering their aisles.

A preliminary reading of Black Friday by Retail Metrics declared traffic across apparel and department stores "uninspiring".

The analytics company now expects November sales at major retailers to fall 0.9 per cent overall.

Stores around Britain were serene as consumers shunned the crowds and shopped from the comfort of their homes and offices, perhaps on account of the frenzied scuffles over bargains last year after customers queued for hours before opening time to snag the best deals.

Shoppers who did turn up waited in queues and made their purchases calmly. Global information services group Experian has predicted online sales in Britain to exceed £1 billion (S$2.1 billion) for the first time.

According to Adobe, many of the top sellers online were electronics, including the Samsung 4K TV, Sony PlayStation 4, iPad Air 2 and Xbox One. Another strong category was toys. Lego Dimensions, Barbie Dream House and the BB-8 droid robot from the new Star Wars film sold out online.

Discounts averaging 26 per cent off were driving higher sales this year. Almost 60 per cent of the online traffic came from mobile devices, which accounted for 37 per cent of sales in value terms.

Average online purchases rose 5 per cent from last year to US$162.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Black Friday frenzy shifts online'. Print Edition | Subscribe