There’s a tug-of-war between retailers wary of throwaway pricing and deal-hungry Black Friday shoppers

New York CNN –

Let the shopping games begin.

Bargain hunters headed to their favorite stores in person and online the day after Thanksgiving to snag what they hope will be some of the best early bargains of the end-of-year holiday.

Are the start-of-season offers enticing enough for shoppers or are they playing a cat-and-mouse game with retailers?

Early shopping trends suggest that people went to stores steadily, but not in a frenzy, on Black Friday.

Michael Brown, a retail industry leader and partner at management consulting firm Kearney, said holiday sales starting much earlier than usual this year could be to blame.

“Consumers are a little tired because the season started in October,” Brown said. While store foot traffic was “good,” Black Friday discounts averaged 25% to 30%, according to Brown.

“These are the promotion levels that retailers have planned. This is the opening offer. “Buyers will wait for better deals,” he said.

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Shoppers walk through Twelve Oaks Mall in Michigan on Black Friday 2023. The National Retail Federation says an estimated 182 million people plan to shop in-store and online by Thanksgiving weekend.

“So far the magic number is 25% off. “Consumers are looking for better and are not showing a sense of urgency,” said Marschall Cohen, chief retail industry analyst at research firm Circana.

“It kind of feels like a shopping day in mid-December instead of Black Friday,” he said. “Shopping doesn’t mean they buy. People browse and look at the offers.”

An item that is a best seller: video game consoles. “They sell out quickly,” Cohen said.

According to data from Adobe Analytics, toys, jewelry and clothing are also selling quickly – at least online. According to the Adobe report, Thanksgiving online sales hit a record $5.6 billion, up 5.5% from a year ago, as people eagerly reached for their cell phones for deals after the holiday meal to browse and shop.

Disney Little People, Uno Show No Mercy, Marvel superhero action figures and, no surprise, Barbie dolls were among the most sought-after toy purchases, the report said.

Retailers will be hoping they have correctly assessed household spending power in the midst of the 2023 holiday season, while shoppers are expecting their favorite bargain store to pull out all the stops to get them to open their wallets.

The day after Thanksgiving historically marks the start of year-end gift-giving fever, which precedes Christmas. The November-December gift-buying months are crucial for retailers as the combined period can account for around 20% of their sales for the entire year.

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Customers wait in line before the store opens for early morning Black Friday sales outside Macy’s Herald Square on November 24, 2023 in New York, New York.

Overall holiday sales are expected to be weaker this year compared to last year. That’s because consumers have faced a variety of stresses throughout the year, including rising prices and a restart Student loan repayments and higher interest and mortgage rates.

But retailers also can’t afford to cut prices too much and dry up their profits in the crucial year-end quarter. Plus, they’re in a much better inventory position with holiday items this year than they were in 2022, meaning they don’t have to lock in clearance-level deals right from the start.

At The Shops at La Cantera shopping center in San Antonio, Texas, the parking lot began to fill up late morning.

“We opened at 9 a.m. today, two hours earlier than usual, and traffic looked better than last year,” said Brian Schroeder, senior general manager of the mall, which is one of more than 120 malls that are part of Brookfield Properties, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management and the second-largest mall operator in the country.

He said there were plenty of 25% off Black Friday deals across the malls and some even more attractive 40% off promotions for early birds. “There were people lining up to get into stores like Lululemon, Kendra Scott, Nike and Apple,” he said.

While these brands typically don’t cut prices much on Black Friday, “they’re all very popular with younger shoppers,” he said. “They go to these stores before they are full and see if they can buy something there.”

Simon Property Group, the country’s largest mall operator, said Black Friday shoppers at its properties included families and many teenagers and young adults. Specialist retailers reported the highest sales. Aeropostale offered 60% to 70% off, and Forever 21 and Aritzia gave their buyers 50% off.

Shannon Stapleton/Portal

Shoppers wait in line to make purchases during Black Friday sales at JCPenney department store at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, New York.

JCPenney opened its department stores at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, “and I got reports of lines outside,” said CEO Marc Rosen.

Rosen said he is keenly aware of the financial constraints faced by Penney’s regular customers, who have an average household income of $75,000. “Saving money and finding value is very important to them,” he said. “We went into the season knowing they were facing inflation headwinds.”

He said the retailer is offering thousands of products for under $15 and a special credit promotion that begins Dec. 1.

“Starting December 1, we are offering a credit promotion for a single total in-store purchase of $250 or more; We are offering six months of interest-free charges on items charged to the JCPenney card,” he said. “Customers can pay off in six equal monthly installments. In doing so, we help our customers take a break from inflation.”

Rosen said he was in Penney stores today and observed low-priced items selling well.

“There are towels for $2.99, our opening prices, small appliances like waffle makers and blenders for $14.99,” he said. “It shows that our customer is really committed to where they find added value. They save their money and don’t go for what we call the better and best products as often as they used to.”

Contributor: CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn