Holiday Central

Thanksgiving Day deals could be stealing Black Friday's thunder

Key Points
  • With consumers shopping Thursday or even earlier this week, the move could be stealing some of Black Friday's luster.
  • Some people were reporting lines at stores weren't so long the morning of Black Friday.
  • Instead, mobile sales were the big winner on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday got off to a strong start this year—here's what three experts are saying about retail stocks
Black Friday got off to a strong start this year—here's what three experts are saying about retail stocks

Shoppers pulled out their phones and shopped on Thanksgiving Day to spend more than they ever have before on Turkey Day, potentially stealing some of Black Friday's thunder.

Sales online Thanksgiving Day totaled $3.7 billion, up 28 percent from a year ago, Adobe Analytics said in a report. That makes Thursday the fastest-growing day for e-commerce sales in history, added the firm, which tracks transactions from 80 of the top 100 internet retailers. Thursday was also the first day in 2018 to see $1 billion in sales from smartphones, according to Adobe, with shoppers spending 8 percent more online on Thursday compared with a year ago.

In addition to spending a record amount online, shoppers were also seen lining up in throngs around the country outside of stores Thursday evening. That was despite record-cold temperatures chilling much of the Northeast.

With many doors opening earlier and retailers like Target, Macy's and Walmart dolling out doorbusters unique to Thursday, it "appear[s] to have enticed consumers to spend a little earlier," said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights.

J.C. Penney opened its doors at 2 p.m. ET Thursday, while Best Buy, Kohl's, Macy's and Target opened at 5 p.m., and Walmart's deals started at 6 p.m., though shoppers could stroll through Walmart stores and receive free cookies and coffee even earlier.

More than 200 people, including many families, were lined up outside of a Target store Thursday evening in Minnetonka, Minnesota, before its doors opened. Items like the Nintendo Switch, L.O.L. Surprise!, $10 giant plush teddy bears and Apple watches were hot sellers. The company also said in a blog post that many shoppers this year took advantage of special deals for credit-card holders that went live Wednesday on, pulling spending even earlier.

Walmart chief merchandising officer Steve Bratspies said "traffic was steady" all Thursday night in stores across the country. The company launched its online deals Wednesday evening at 10 p.m., two hours earlier than in 2017. Bratspies said "millions" of people were shopping on, though there were also reports of the website experiencing delays. It was working again by Friday morning.

Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette chimed in by saying traffic was strong Thursday.

Shoppers "showed up early online. And when we opened at 5 [p.m.], they were there," he told CNBC from inside Macy's flagship Herald Square location Friday morning. "People responded very well last night."

With so many deals taking place earlier in the week, Black Friday could be losing some of its luster.

"Here at the mall, it has been remarkably slow to be honest," Kerri Sapp, senior manager of Deloitte, told CNBC Friday morning. Sapp was inside Lenox Square in Atlanta. She said shoppers were starting to file in "as they woke up," but there were no long lines, like many at big-box stores on Thanksgiving night. The longest line in the mall Black Friday morning was at a Starbucks coffee shop, she said.

Early winners on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday appear to be Walmart, Old Navy and Bath and Body Works, KeyBanc analyst Ed Yruma said. Traffic at Target, Urban Outfitters and Gap stores matched expectations, he said, while Nordstrom and Victoria's Secret shops seemed more empty than anticipated.

"Traffic has seemed busier than normal, but I would say ... the Black Friday push isn't as strong as it used to be," Yruma told CNBC. He was visiting Tysons Corner Center in Virginia Friday morning.

Fifty-seven percent of shoppers are planning to buy online this holiday season, compared with 36 percent in stores, Deloitte found in its annual holiday survey that polled 4,036 consumers in September. Sixty percent of those surveyed said they planned to start shopping for the holidays before Thanksgiving and planned to spend 28 percent more, or $370, than people who procrastinate.

The National Retail Federation is predicting holiday sales gains will be better than a five-year average of 3.9 percent. It expects a bump ranging from 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent.

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