In the most consumptive nation on Earth, Black Friday in the U.S. has long been viewed as the ultimate looking glass: reflecting all that is good, bad and so-so about the world’s largest economy. This year, it’s that, and then some.
Supply-chain bottlenecks have led to short supply of merchandise, with many goods out of stock. Inflation is at a 30-year high and discounts aren’t as deep. Newly empowered workers have forced wage hikes, yet many retail jobs remain unfilled. And a string of recent robberies at high-end stores in Northern and Southern California have retail workers on edge.
Add the Delta variant and vaccination resistance, which is filling hospital beds and making in-person shopping potentially risky, and it might be a Black Friday like no other.
“I think this is gonna be the first year with a severe backorder,” said Luis Lainez, manager of a T-Mobile store at the West Hollywood Gateway. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do if everybody’s walking in and we’re like, ‘We’re gonna have to ship it out.”
Yet for all those obstacles, the National Retail Federation is projecting retail sales will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% in the months of November and December, from the same period last year, with the potential to break all-time records as shoppers return to stores amid relaxed to no COVID restrictions.
Online shopping, already turbo-charged last year by the pandemic, is up 19.8% from Nov. 1 through Nov. 23, according to Adobe Analytics. For the full holiday shopping season, counted as November and December, online sales are expected to grow 10% from last year to a record $207 billion.
Shoppers awaiting doors to open early Friday were happy to be out from behind their computers.
“It’s kind of a return to normalcy for us,” said Christina Perez, in line outside Target at the West Valley Mall in Tracy. At 6:45 a.m., about 40 people stood awaiting the store’s 7 a.m. opening. “We couldn’t do it the last two years,” Perez said.
She didn’t know what she was out to buy, exactly, and she just wanted to be out with her family. Perez said she had caught COVID-19 twice, and her husband got ill with the virus too. Now fully recovered and vaccinated, the pair was ready to venture out again.
“We just love the interaction,” she said of shopping in person.