Business

On Black Friday, more US shoppers chose the computer over the mall

NEW YORK: The Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday kick-off of the US holiday shopping season showed the increasing preference for online purchases, as more Americans opted to stay home and use their smartphones while sales and traffic at brick-and-mortar stores declined.

The ongoing shift to online shopping has forced retailers across the country to invest heavily in boosting their e-commerce businesses and also highlights the impact of early holiday promotions and year-round deals on consumer spending.

The weekend also redefined the importance of Black Friday.

For the past few years, Black Friday was believed to be waning in importance, but it is now turning into a day when shoppers do not necessarily flock to stores but spend heavily online.

Mr Bill Park, a partner at Deloitte & Touche, said online sales are starting to complement in-store shopping over the weekend, and for shoppers and retailers, the two platforms are starting to converge.

This is happening more and more as retailers such as Walmart and Amazon.com sell both online and through stores, making winning the transaction more important than where it occurs, retail consultants and analysts said.

Online sales rose more than 23 per cent, crossing US$6 billion (S$8.3 billion) on Black Friday, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 US retailers.

On Thanksgiving, it estimated sales grew 28 per cent to US$3.7 billion.

Preliminary data from analytics firm RetailNext showed net sales at brick-and-mortar stores fell 4 per cent to 7 per cent over the two days, while traffic fell 5 per cent to 9 per cent, continuing the trend of recent years. No data was yet available for actual spending in stores.

Last year, brick-and-mortar sales were down 8.9 per cent for the weekend year over year, and shopper traffic fell 4.4 per cent.

In 2016, store sales were down 4.2 per cent and traffic was down 4.4 per cent, according to RetailNext.

The decrease in store foot traffic is a little greater than it has been in years past, though still within expectations, RetailNext spokesman Ray Hartjen said.

Mr Brian Field, senior director of advisory services at ShopperTrak, said online sales have eroded traffic from retailers over the years, "but what we have noticed is that the decline is starting to flatten out ... Overall it's been consistent with where it's been over the last few years".

Last year, visits to physical stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were down 1.6 per cent, according to the firm.

"This decline feels pretty good to me. I think retail is in for a good season," Mr Field said.

Retail consultants have said spending patterns over the weekend are not as indicative of the entire season as they were a few years ago because the tendency now is to shop over November and December. - REUTERS

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