The days of parents stampeding through toy stores on Black Friday, elbowing one another to grab Cabbage Patch Kids, are long gone thanks to the advent of online shopping and a longer holiday shopping season.
But Black Friday is far from dead. This year, crowds of shoppers headed to Chicago area malls and stores Black Friday morning, kicking off what’s expected to be a record-setting — if more civilized — holiday weekend of shopping.
An estimated 182 million people are expected to shop in stores and online this long weekend, from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, the highest number of estimated shoppers since the National Retail Federation began tracking the data in 2017.
Black Friday was expected to be the busiest of those shopping days, with many people still eager to go to real-life, brick-and-mortar stores.
By 8 a.m. Friday, the massive Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg wasn’t crazy crowded, but the mall was hopping. Several stores including Pandora, the Lego Store and Akira already had lines outside their entrances. By 9 a.m., even some men’s bathrooms had short lines.
Kate Fromberg, 50 of Byron, said she still does all of her holiday shopping in-person. She woke at 4 a.m. Friday and drove an hour-and-a-half to Woodfield to be there with her three daughters when it opened at 6 a.m.
“We like to touch it. We like to feel it. We like to try it on,” Fromberg said.
She’s been Black Friday shopping for decades, since she had to push her daughters through the mall in strollers. “It’s tradition,” she said.
Jeff Priebe, 50 of Northbrook, has also been going Black Friday shopping for decades, with two of his friends. When their kids were young, they were often among the first shoppers on Black Friday morning at Toys R Us. This year, they went to Woodfield.
For him and his friends, it’s more about hanging out together than finding deals.
“It kind of sets up the holidays,” Priebe said. “Between that and Blackhawks games, it’s kept us together.”
Tradition is the main reason about 28% of consumers who shop during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend do so, while about 61% do it because the deals are too good to pass up, according to a survey of more than 8,000 consumers conducted earlier this month and released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.
For some who headed to the mall Friday, it was a new tradition.
Sovan Misra, 33, took his wife and daughter Black Friday shopping at Woodfield for the first time this year, mainly to see what the experience was like. Misra and his family moved to Arlington Heights from India recently, for his job.
Misra said the day seemed similar to major shopping days in India, but on a bigger scale. Misra’s 3-year-old daughter Saanvi Misra approved. “I love shopping,” she said, as the family took a break on a bench. “My favorite is shopping.”
Others also go because they enjoy the experience.
John Heger, 64 of Lake in the Hills, said he enjoys watching all the people. He and his wife Kathi Heger, 61, hit up Kohl’s at 5 a.m. before driving to Woodfield. They planned to shop for a few hours and then stop for breakfast on the way home.
They bought a wagon for their grandson at the new Radio Flyer store at Woodfield. Heger said he probably could have gotten a better deal on a wagon online, but it was more fun buying it in-person.
“We do shopping online, but I prefer this,” he said. “With Amazon, you click a button. There’s no interaction.”
Veronica Hughes, 46 of New Lenox, said she also likes the Black Friday scene. She went to Woodfield on Friday with her daughters who, she said, “got great deals.”
“I kind of like just being around a lot of people,” Hughes said. “Everything has changed, with remote work where people tend to stay home more, so it’s nice to be able to experience other people.”
Hughes said she’s been Black Friday shopping for decades, though she said she now does much of her holiday shopping online.
Many other consumers are also doing a lot of holiday shopping online this year. Consumers spent $5.6 billion online on Thanksgiving Day alone, this year — about 5.5% higher than last year and nearly double what they spent on Thanksgiving in 2017, according to Adobe. Black Friday was expected to bring in $9.6 billion in online spending, an increase of 5.7% compared with the year before, according to Adobe.
With online and in-person shopping combined, consumers are expected to spend between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion this holiday season — a record level and about 3% to 4% higher than last holiday season, the federation has projected.
Consumers may be less concerned about inflation this year compared with last year, but they feel uncertainty about the economy and world events, said Katherine Cullen, the National Retail Federation’s vice president of industry and consumer insights.
“Consumers want to cherish their loved ones and take those moments of joy the season can represent for a lot of people, and really invest in them,” Cullen said.
At the same time, Black Friday is not what it used to be.
In many cases, retailers now offer deals before Black Friday, and some malls don’t even open early on Black Friday anymore, said Gabriella Santaniello, founder of retail research firm A Line Partners. Santaniello said in-person shopping seemed slower in many areas of the country on Black Friday this year compared with last year.
“There isn’t this mad rush to get out there the minute the malls open,” Santaniello said.
Yadira Sosa, 41 of Maywood, said she and her daughters were “late” this year to Black Friday shopping at Woodfield, not arriving until 6:30 a.m. But she said they had luck finding deals once they got there. By 9:30 a.m., they had already made one trip back to their car to drop off full shopping bags.
Sosa said Black Friday shopping has been a decades-long tradition in her family. She remembers people pitching tents outside of Best Buy the night before, and lining up outside Walmart for deals on TVs.
“It’s not like that now,” Sosa said. “It’s not that wild. I like it better now.”