Weekend shopping relatively calm

By J. DANIEL CLOUD,

The day after Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest shopping days of the year, but Black Friday 2019 was unusually calm.

And that wasn’t the case only in Hattiesburg. It was true across the nation.

The ever-growing prevalence of online shopping has led to what is frequently referred to as the “Amazon effect.” Why wait in line for an item that is supposed to be on extreme mark-down, when it may not even be available once you make it into a brick-and-mortar store? Instead, people are more commonly spending money online.

According to some reports from Thanksgiving and Black Friday, consumers spent a record $4.2 billion online on Thanksgiving alone, and an estimated $7 billion on Black Friday sales.

Not everyone did most of their shopping online.

Hattiesburg’s Best Buy was open on Thanksgiving. They didn’t open until 5 p.m., and closed at 1 a.m. The store was busy at about 8:30 p.m., when I went, but it certainly wasn’t the mess I had been expecting.

“There is definitely less traffic this year than last year,” said DeeJay Rolison, a loss-prevention employee at the store.

There had been a line of people outside Best Buy when the doors opened at 5 p.m., he said.

“Every year we have at least one particularly low-priced item, usually a TV or something like that,” Rolison said. “That’s what it was this year, and they had all been sold before we even opened.”

Employees handed out claim tickets for exactly as many TVs as were available, on a first-come, first-served basis, he explained.

At least part of the reason for lower traffic this year, he said, is that “we started the sales earlier this year. We’re working toward a full month of Black Friday-type sales, rather than just one day. It makes it easier on employees and on shoppers. It just makes sense.”

The next morning, as I drove around in the early hours of Black Friday – I left the house at 6 a.m. – I saw little evidence of the melee I’d been told to expect. Indeed, I was at Turtle Creek Mall at about 6:30, parked close to one of the primary entrances, got inside without incident, and wandered from end to end and back over the course of 45 minutes.

Some stores weren’t open yet, the metal grated doors still rolled down into place. No one was standing around, inside or out. There were people in the stores that were open, and in the common areas, but fewer than at Walmart on an average Saturday afternoon.

I left in time to get back to Best Buy before they opened at 8 a.m., expecting at least some stalwarts to be waiting to get in. There was a barricade arranged along the exterior wall, to funnel people toward the door in orderly fashion. But there was literally no one in line at 7:45, or 7:50, and only a couple a mere five minutes before the store opened.

There were a number of people waiting in their cars, clearly in no hurry to “beat the crowd.”

It’s not only the growing propensity toward shopping online that has changed the trajectory of shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

James Moore, owner of Moore’s Bike Shop, noted that numerous other factors have affected the change. In addition to spreading out the sales over several weeks, like Best Buy, some retailers are choosing simply to not participate in Black Friday sales, he said.

For example, REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), which is one of the nation’s largest sporting goods retailers, decided to close on Thanksgiving and Black Friday – and to encourage their employees to spend time either with family, or doing something outdoors.

“They wised up,” Moore said. “They realized that selling their product for cheap, sometimes even at a loss, on one day per year was a bad business strategy.”

Thirty years, even 20 or fewer, “I’d have 50 or 60 bikes on layaway for Christmas, mostly kids’ bikes,” Moore said. This year, there are only nine bikes on layaway, and of those, only four or five are holiday related, and only three of those are for children.

“It’s a completely different market now,” Moore continued. “Instead of bicycles or other sporting goods, most people are putting their money toward electronics.”

On the other side of the river, at the Ace Hardware store in Petal, two store employees said they had no significant crowds on either Black Friday or on Small Business Saturday, which is a follow-up to the Friday event.

This was due in part to the fact that they decided not to take part in the hardware store chain’s special sales, despite the fact that they sell Christmas decorations, they said. Anything that is advertised by Ace Hardware as a special sale item, that this store chose not to stock, can be ordered at the store, and the sale price will be honored..

As a matter of fact, “a lot of that Christmas stuff over there is left over from last year, and the year before,” the cashier said. “There’s no sense ordering $1,500 worth of stuff that nobody’s going to buy.

The only line I saw all day on Friday was outside Eve Marie’s Boutique on Hardy Street. I went back by that shop on Small Business Saturday – I was in no condition to talk to 50 or 60 women – to see what their secret was.

“Swag bags,” said store manager Tori Harwood.

On both days, customers lined up in the morning for the goody bags, with the first 50 receiving one. The store also held a drawing for a $100 shopping spree, entered by the first 100 customers; another drawing for a Tory Burch bag, for the first 50 customers; and there were also other discounts over the weekend.

And apparently it worked.

The boutique has been open for 14 years, and “this is the busiest we’ve been,” Harwood added.