November 24, 2018

San Diego shoppers open their wallets as retailers count on a record-setting holiday season (San Diego Union Tribune) »

Megan Riiff of Chula Vista loves Black Friday. The 29-year-old came through the doors of the Target store in Mission Valley when it opened at 7 a.m. with her mother, sister and aunt.

“I love being in the crowds, with the hustle and bustle and in the holiday spirit,” she said. “I know some people kind of loathe it and say, ‘How can you be shopping?’ But I think it just kick-starts the season.”

Riiff was hardly alone, as San Diegans shrugged off any lingering effects of ingesting too much turkey, cranberries and stuffing and opened up their wallets to take advantage of deep discounts by descending on department stores and shops across the county.

“It’s always one specific item we’re looking for,” said Kasarah Chavez, who joined her brother, a friend and her grandmother at Best Buy first thing in the morning. She picked up a PlayStation Pro for $400 — about $100 less than usual. “It’s just my day for holiday shopping.”

Chavez was joined by millions of shoppers nationwide as a still-chugging economy has buoyed consumer confidence and led retail analysts to predict record-breaking numbers for the holiday season.

The research firm EMarketer estimated retail sales to top $1 trillion for the first time ever, a 5.8 percent increase from last year.

The National Retail Federation and Propser Insights & Analytics forecast about 164 million people are expected to shop either at brick-and-mortar stores or online in the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, the day when many return to work or school but keep buying through their computers, smartphones or tablets.

Black Friday online sales through 5 p.m. Pacific time had reached $4.1 billion, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to Adobe Analytics. On Thanksgiving, online sales hit $3.7 billion, a 28 percent increase from last Thanksgiving. Top products were the Nintendo Switch gaming console, Beats headphones and Hot Wheels toys, Adobe said.

Black Friday ranks as the second best revenue day for retailers in California, who see a 49 percent increase in sales, according to a study by the small business software company Womply. The only day that’s bigger in the Golden State is the Friday before Christmas, when revenue balloons 64 percent above an average day.

Seth Redden, a 30-year-old youth pastor from University Heights, beat the crowds to buy an Apple Watch for $199 at Target by ordering it online the day before. He glided in shortly after the store opened Friday, picked up his watch at the storefront, and was out in just a few minutes.

“I do this a lot,” Redden said. “It’s just easier for them to go find the item than it is for me.”

Although purchases from physical stores make up 87.7 percent of total holiday sales, online purchases continue to gain ground. EMarketer predicted a 16.6 percent increase this year for Internet sales, accounting for $123.7 billion nationally.

Feeling the pressure from online purchases, stores have taken steps to entice customers this holiday season.

Best Buy offers free shipping on every item purchased on its website and free pickup through Dec. 25. And in a nod to a practice employed by Nordstrom Rack, Walmart and Target have stationed employees with hand-held checkout scanners across their stores so customers don’t have to stand in line.

A study this year by UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology showed one-third of shoppers will leave a store without buying anything if they have to wait in line for more than seven minutes.

Seventy-four-year-old Bob Redfield went on his very first Black Friday shopping excursion to the Best Buy store in Mission Valley and was pleasantly surprised.

“I’m amazed it’s not much more crowded — and people are being nice,” he said as he navigated a shopping cart containing a 50-inch LED 4K television through the crowd. “I was thinking it would be a madhouse.”

A few hours earlier, Danny Schneider, a San Diego State student, was the first to arrive at Best Buy, planting himself onto a folding chair at 4:45 a.m. to buy an ultra-HD Sharp television at a $200 discount.

“It’s not so bad,” he said a couple of hours before the store opened. “I don’t get much sleep as an engineering major anyway, so it’s not too different from that.”

Schneider looked over the line of 22 customers behind him. “I thought there would be more people here, honestly.”

Best Buy was one of many retailers that opened their doors on Thanksgiving night to accommodate shoppers who just could not wait.

“I think what happened was, they opened up yesterday so it takes out all the extreme people,” Federico Medina, 30, from Barrio Logan, said with a laugh. “It kind of filters them out and now it’s a nice, mellow morning.”

Antonieta Beltran said the morning crowd at Target was thinner than in the past but as a long-time Black Friday shopper who comes to San Diego each year from Tijuana to take advantage of the deep discounts, she doesn’t like the idea of stores opening on Thanksgiving night.

“They started doing that about two years ago and I think that is so sad,” Beltran said. She pointed to a coffeemaker in her cart. “I got here at 7 and there was one left. People bought it yesterday when they should be having family time. Stores are breaking with the family and making people anxious, afraid they’re going to get here and not find what they’ve been waiting (for). It’s not right.”

Economic optimism has been a key driver for the increase in planned holiday spending both locally and across the nation, said Brent Schoenbaum, a partner in Deloitte’s retail practice.

“Nationally, there’s strong optimism around whether the economy improved,” he said. “Strong performance in consumer confidence, real wage growth and job security has continued to build upon itself from a year ago.”

The holiday shopping season comes at a time when the unemployment rate has reached levels not seen in decades — 3.3 percent in San Diego County4.1 percent in California and 3.7 percent nationally.

But the stock market has gone through a rough few weeks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 178.74 points in a short day of trading Friday while the S&P fell 0.65 percent and the Nasdaq Composite was off 0.5 percent. For the week, the major indices dropped more than 3 percent, their biggest losses for a Thanksgiving week since 2011.

Experts say that volatility in the financial markets and a slowdown in the housing market could make some shoppers rethink large or luxury purchases.

Daniel Baruso-Perez, a 22-year-old and Mesa College student, said trade disputes with China raise concerns for him but, at least for this holiday season, he expects to spend a little bit more.

“These are really luxury items,” he said as he stood in line Friday morning at Best Buy to pick up a TV. “This is not something that is super-necessary. So since it’s here, I might as well take advantage of it.”

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