Black Friday isn’t what it used to be, but some shoppers still wake early

Westfield Brandon’s post-holiday rush was tepid Friday morning, but the sale tradition lingers.
Shoppers braving the crowds to take advantage of Black Friday sales are seen at the Westfield  Brandon mall on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Brandon.
Shoppers braving the crowds to take advantage of Black Friday sales are seen at the Westfield Brandon mall on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 in Brandon. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2022|Updated Nov. 25, 2022

BRANDON — The line outside Target near Westfield Brandon mall dissolved as soon as the doors opened at 7 o’clock Friday morning.

Down the street in the mall itself, a steady, if unremarkable, flow of customers lined up at Starbucks, stocked up on Legos and picked over Christmas-themed clothing. The mall was luring shoppers with promotions. The parking lot was half-filled. The food court empty. Shoppers had plenty of space to stroll.

Relaxing in a pair of massage chairs near the Macy’s entrance, Vicki Maclin and her daughter, Teresa Hunter, thought back to each Black Friday they’ve attended for more than 20 years.

But, as time has passed, the trek to Westfield Brandon has come to mean more to Maclin than to Hunter.

“I’m fine just ordering online,” said Hunter, 48.

But Maclin, 66, said brick-and-mortar stores and the opportunity to shop in person appealed to her.

“I’d rather touch and see,” said the Riverview resident.

Both agreed that Black Friday — at least at Westfield Brandon — isn’t what it used to be. They were disappointed in some the selection of bedding and glassware and, also, nostalgic about the mobs of people they used to have to jostle. When they arrived at 6:30 a.m., it wasn’t like the old days.

“Thank you, Amazon!” quipped Hunter.

Industry analysts paint a different portrait nationally. About 166 million people are planning to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, according to the annual survey released today by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, almost 8 million more people than last year and the highest estimate since 2017.

But the same group expects holiday sales growth overall will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, from the blistering 13.5% growth of a year ago, according to The Associated Press.

And those figures, which include online spending, aren’t adjusted for inflation, so real spending could even be down from a year ago. Adobe Analytics expects online sales to be up 2.5% from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, a slowdown from the 8.6% pace last year, when shoppers were uncertain about returning to physical stores, according to AP.

In New York, Macy’s Herald Square reported early-morning bustling crowds that were up significantly from last year when supply-chain shortages and fears of COVID-19 kept many shoppers away.

It’s not just online retailers that have sucked some of the energy, occasionally dark, that marked Black Fridays a decade ago. Brick-and-mortar retailers have extended Black Friday sales over a week’s span. The growth of “Small Business Saturday” also has cut into sales.

As shopping trends change, though, the desire to share in a communal retail experience hasn’t dimmed for everyone.

“It’s fun having the crowds,” Maclin said.