Black Friday shopping at Charlotte-area malls was steady but decidedly lower-key than in the past, reflecting a national trend as stores opened earlier on Thanksgiving and as people continue to do more of their shopping online.
Starting my morning at 6 Friday, I hit five malls in five hours, beginning with Concord Mills, then on to Northlake Mall, Charlotte Premium Outlets, Carolina Place and SouthPark. Shoppers I spoke with generally said the day was similar to last year and far less of a frenzy than it has been historically.
Black Friday is still a major shopping day, but its importance is becoming diluted – in Charlotte and around the country. Charlotte-area malls all opened at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Individual retailers, meanwhile, have been offering more online promotions and extending the time for which they’re available.
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Carolina Place marketing manager Scott Anderson, for example, described mall traffic this year on Thanksgiving and Black Friday morning as “steady.”
“Back when there was no Thanksgiving opening and no sales early in the week, everything was concentrated on Black Friday. We don’t see the big rushes and the giant crowds that we would see four or five years ago. It’s really changed,” Anderson said.
National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay similarly called the holiday “a marathon, not a sprint,” adding that retailers have many more opportunities this holiday to boost sales.
By 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Americans had spent $1.1 billion online, according to Adobe Systems. The full day was expected to total $1.7 billion, up 22 percent from last year. The surge already raises doubt about the success of brick-and-mortar Black Friday deals.
During my excursion Friday morning, I noticed that stores were doing all the could to accommodate shoppers and lure others in. Gap was offering a free tote bag and an additional 10 percent off its already half-off Black Friday promotion, and Anthropologie, which offered 25 percent off everything store wide, was giving away miscellaneous freebies like gift tags and certificates.
What did not surprise me at Concord Mills were the dozens of people sleeping on mall benches and the long line at Starbucks at a little after 6 a.m. What did surprise me was the relative ease with which I navigated the parking lot and mall. The place was way quieter than I had imagined, though lots of people were still walking around with bags filled to the brim.
Many of the bargain hunters I first encountered at Concord Mills had been shopping since the night before. Zenobia Penn, for example, arrived Thursday night at around 11 from Martinsville, Va., about two hours away. She was on her third trip back to her car when I spoke with her Friday at 7 a.m. This was Penn’s first Black Friday but she said she will do it again, pointing to the attractive deals she found, like the 60 percent off some items at Michael Kors and Coach.
Nan Gray, the outlet mall’s marketing director, said traffic over the last two days has come in waves, much like last year’s. She said the Panthers’ 4:30 p.m. game yesterday probably kept some people at home but that traffic picked up at midnight, died down by 3 a.m. and picked back up Friday around 11.
“So far it’s been a good weekend. Our retailers are giving us high-fives and thumbs up, though don’t have any numbers yet,” Gray said, adding that she anticipates four busy weekends before Christmas.
Steady is the first word that comes to mind when considering Northlake’s Black Friday shopping, too. The only line visible was the one in front of Dillard’s before it opened at 8 a.m. (the department store chain wasn’t open on Thursday either, unlike local rival Belk.)
Paulette Hall and Markita Scott, both from Charlotte, were among the many shoppers taking advantage of Belk’s Black Friday deals, including boots marked down to $19 from $79 and MAC makeup, which is seldom discounted, for 25 percent off.
Hall said Black Friday shopping is “even better now” because the crowds have thinned out so much. Scott added that she recalls a Black Friday at Concord Mills about five years ago when customers were crammed so closely together as they tried to push through the mall that she feared for her children.
“Traffic began picking up a couple of weeks ago as people began responding to early deals that our retailers offered, and this Thanksgiving/Black Friday we’re seeing terrific crowds, and expect it to pick up even more in the next 28 days,” said Sherri Chisolm-Whiteside, the mall’s marketing director.
Charlotte Premium Outlets
The outlet mall was starting to fill up quickly in the approximately 40 minutes I spent walking through, though it’s hard to tell it’s that crowded, since the mall is open air. The hotspots I noticed were Kate Spade , which was offering 60 percent off everything, and J.Crew Factory, where all items were 50 percent off.
Shopper Sydney Zazzaro, who bought a Banana Republic shirt on sale, said she was surprised when she arrived at 7:30 Friday morning that the outlets weren’t packed.
Carolina Place Mall
Ha Vo was one of the several shoppers for whom Black Friday seems almost like a ritual. She had already been to Carolina Place on Thanksgiving night with her family and was lugging out another brimming bag of sweaters, coats and other clothing bought on deep discount at Belk when I spoke with her around 10 Friday morning. “I love coming every year,” Vo said.
Elsewhere in the mall, shoppers were packed into stores like Bath & Body Works, Gamestop and rue 21 to snap up marked-down goods. Many other stores advertised that their deals ended at 11 or noon, perhaps a reason many shoppers were around early.
Nordstrom’s parking lot was starting to get fairly full by the time I arrived, though that’s not necessarily unusual for the popular SouthPark destination. Nordstrom wasn’t open on Thanksgiving and waited until Friday morning to unveil its Christmas decorations. Needless to say, the store was bustling.
Melvin McMorris of Fayetteville was leaving the store at around 11 when I saw him carrying a huge Belk bag out to his car before heading back in for shopping round No. 2. He had purchased seven dress shirts and a Belk associated informed him while checking out that he had saved $104. It was McMorris’ first Black Friday, though he said he will probably come again.
“It was perfect today,” McMorris said. “Way less crowded than I thought.” Bloomberg News contributed.