Some lines but less frenzy as Black Friday brings out deal-seeking Minnesotans – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Shortly before 5 a.m., Alexis Hawkinson pulled into the parking lot of a Kohl’s department store in St. Louis Park and met her in-laws for the return of a family tradition of early morning shopping on Black Friday.

“We decided to beat the crowd,” said Hawkinson, 29, of Plymouth. “We thought it would be quieter rather than going in the middle of the day when things are picked over.”

They were right. Only about a half-dozen cars were in the Kohl’s parking lot. Shoppers waited in them, keeping warm from the 15-degree morning, until an employee opened the store.

A decade ago, early mornings on Black Friday produced chaotic scenes of throngs of shoppers trying to get inside stores, scoop up heavily-discounted items and move on to the next store. By 2013 and 2014, many big-box retailers were opening on Thanksgiving evening, extending the fever for deals onto the holiday itself.

Starting around 2016, retailers began discounting all through November and offering the same deals online as in stores. Shoppers responded and the frenzy around Black Friday diminished. Pandemic-related shutdowns a year ago dampened Black Friday as an “event” even more.

For both retailers and health experts, the behavior of shoppers this Black Friday will provide insights on how Americans feel about the economy and the pandemic.

Surveys in recent weeks have shown that consumers expect to spend more on holiday gifts and foods than last year. But with inflation at its highest level in 30 years, higher costs will account for a bigger portion of the gain than in recent years.

U.S. retail sales, excluding auto and gas, from this past Monday through Sunday are expected to increase 10% from last year and 12.2% from the 2019 holiday season, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures overall retail sales across all payment types including cash and check.

Online sales are forecast to increase 7.1% for the week, Mastercard said. In the same period last year, before COVID-19 vaccinations and amid shutdowns in many states, online sales rose 46.4%.

At the Mall of America, there were early indications that Black Friday would approach its pre-pandemic action. Large crowds of shoppers piled through the doors, some still in pajamas.

Letitia Holloway, 57, of Chicago, traveled several hours from her daughter’s home in Wisconsin. “The crowds and seeing everybody waiting patiently in line, it was just exciting,” she said.

Annie Olson, 51, of Edina, has done Black Friday shopping at the Mall of America a few times before. She stood in line with a large group of family members, including her nieces and daughters, for two hours before the doors opened at 7 a.m. “It’s nice to be out,” Olson said. “We really came for the fun.”

There was a short line outside of the Best Buy in Maplewood before staff opened doors at 6. More people were out than last year, but the crowd was still small compared to years before the pandemic.

Zane Waite, 18, of White Bear Lake, was one of the first people in the door. Waite, his brother and his brother’s girlfriend hoped to get a new game system, but they didn’t find what they were seeking. They bought on a 50-inch TV instead, which Waite then struggled to fit in the back seat. “It was a good deal,” he said.

Waite worked at a retail store on Black Friday last year and said he liked being a shopper more.

“That was hectic,” he said. “This is a lot more relaxed.”

Heather Cassell, 42, of Little Canada, hadn’t planned to go Black Friday shopping, but she decided last minute to go out with her sons to Best Buy for something to do.

“This is going to be a small Christmas this year,” she said as she sipped a warm drink.

Cassell decided to buy a sound bar before heading to other stores. She used to go out for Black Friday shopping and wait outside in line, but she stopped in recent years because it would get too chaotic with shoppers. “This is more calm,” she said.

Daniella Valencia, 21, who was visiting from Mexico, decided to snag a laptop for herself as she shopped with her mother Friday morning.

“This year it’s all about me,” she said with a laugh.

At Southdale Center in Edina, Zack Van Pelt and his girlfriend walked in the door of Macy’s department store right at its 6 a.m. opening. He said Black Friday shopping is a ritual for the couple and that they planned to hit Menard’s, Target and Best Buy later in the morning.

He said he believed digital shopping had affected Black Friday and expects that on Monday, which retailers promote as Cyber Monday, they will spend time buying things online.

The couple headed over to look at men’s suits. Asked if he was sure he could find a deal there, Van Pelt said, “What’s not on sale?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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