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Black Friday: Big Bust?

Quentin Fottrell
Toys R Us, Times Square, 8.45am EST Friday.

Is the most-hyped shopping day of the year all talk?

As shoppers flocked to stores and shopping malls today — an estimated 152 million Americans will hit the stores this “Black Friday” weekend — many consumers say they’re underwhelmed with the deals and discounts so far.

“I’m still hoping to be wowed,” said Erin Redshaw of Toronto, who at 9 a.m. already had her hands full with bags from half a dozen different stores near Rockefeller Center in New York City. She said she got some of her best buys at Macy’s, in large part because she had a 20% off coupon mailed back in September, and good through November 27, as an extra perk for store cardholders. (Shoppers with an in-store savings pass from Thursday’s paper could save an extra 10% to 15% off most items.)

Indeed, experts say a combination of early sales and online deals has made this year’s Black Friday sales less exciting. As we’ve previously reported, many of stores’ Black Friday deals were available in stores at the same prices earlier this week. For example, on Tuesday Best Buy had a 55″ LG LED flat-screen for $898, a 31% discount and the same as its advertised Black Friday price.

And some Black Friday sales — including coveted door-busters — were available at retailers’ websites on Thanksgiving Day, including Macy’s, The Limited and Best Buy. Market research firm ComScore predicts that online spending today will top $700 million, up 8% on last year. “There is a shift towards online because of the pricing transparency and better deals consumers can usually get online,” says Andrew Lipsman, vice-president of industry analysis at ComScore.

As a result, many stores weren’t as crowded as expected Friday. For example, At 8:45 a.m., nearly 12 hours after its Thanksgiving night opening, the Toys R Us in Times Square (see picture) had no lines — just a few parents and tourists and a floating shark. (Spokesman Bob Friedland says the line of people waiting for the 9 p.m. opening went around the corner.)

Aeropostale, Ann Taylor Loft and many other Times Square and Rockefeller Center stores had equally sparse crowds this morning. Up near Boston, Edgar Dworsky of consumer advocacy site ConsumerWorld.org reports visiting a CW Price discount store at 9.a.m. – still in time to receive one of the door-buster gift cards the chain had promised to the first 100 shoppers in stores after its 7 a.m. opening.

To be sure, shoppers are still finding there are benefits to hitting the stores. Although many deals are online, a lot of others — including many of the big door-busters — are not. Online shoppers may also have to spend more than those heading to stores, in order to avoid shipping fees.

Still, Jeff DiBattista of Columbia, S.C., said the offers this year haven’t been as good as years past — despite all the ads and marketing around Black Friday. “You just have to be smart about it,” he said while waiting for his wife to finish shopping at the Ann Taylor Loft on 6th Avenue in New York. DiBattista saved an extra 20% off at Brooks Brothers for paying by MasterCard, on a sweater whose price was already reduced by 30%. The store offered 15% off for all other methods of payment. “It was still a pretty expensive sweater,” he said.

(Quentin Fottrell also contributed to this post.)


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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.