KENNESAW — Bigger than last year, but smaller than the year before that, Black Friday came to Cobb County without the mad, predawn rush, yet left retailers and shoppers grateful the kickoff to the 2021 holiday season had escaped the long shadow of the pandemic.
“It seems very normal now,” Marie Moore, general manager of Town Center mall, said just before 11 a.m., as families, still wearing their pajamas and weighed by bulging shopping bags, strolled by. Some wore masks; most did not. “It feels like Christmas. It feels like Christmas 2019.”
Industry projections have been rosy. The National Retail Federation estimated holiday sales during November and December will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% over their 2020 numbers, to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion. If that comes to pass, it would set records “for both the growth rate and total amount spent,” according to the NRF. It also forecast consumers would spend an average $997.73 in that time period.
And yet, despite the deals, the crowds, the time spent with family, some shoppers said it didn’t quite feel like Black Friday.
At 10 a.m., Nicole Barlow was almost done with her Black Friday shopping and heading to the register at the Kennesaw Best Buy off Cobb Place Boulevard. She had started at 4:30 a.m. to beat the crowds. That may have been overkill.
“It wasn’t (busy) first thing this morning,” she said. But, some five hours later, stores were finally starting to fill, she said. “Now it’s starting to feel busier.”
Cobb Police Officer Cooper stood guard just inside the entrance to the Best Buy. He had arrived at 3 a.m., and found a couple shoppers had camped outside the store in hopes of snagging new videogame consoles, which have been in short supply since their release last year. When the manager came out to tell them none were in stock, the crowd dispersed.
At Avenue West Cobb, a shopping center off Dallas Highway, bookstore Barnes & Noble and women’s clothier Altar’d State were among the first stores to open. Just after 8 a.m., both enjoyed a steady stream of customers.
Taking a break from perusing books at Barnes & Noble, Nicholas Higgins, of Canton, said he’d been shopping for hours. He had already been to a Walmart and was surprised at the turnout — or lack thereof.
“It feels totally different,” Higgins said. “There’s no lines. Where are the people?”
And yet he was excited to spend the day after Thanksgiving with his mother and fiancee, bouncing between brick-and-mortar stores, supporting local businesses.
Retailers who spoke with the MDJ said they expected stores to fill late morning. Indeed, by 11 a.m., lines had formed outside some retailers at Town Center. As her colleague managed a line nearby, a sales associate at Bath and Bodyworks was quick to sum up her morning: “Busy, busy, busy.” But Tina Brogdon and Kayla Self, of Catoosa County, decked in matching green-and-red sweaters, noticed and lamented the thinner crowds.
“Less people to watch,” Brogdon said, laughing.
Some shoppers may still be wary of the coronavirus. Others may have finished their shopping — Black Friday deals began early this week — and many, of course, were content to buy everything online.
Analysing online sales data, Adobe found that people spent $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving and were expected to spend between $8.8 billion and $9.6 billion Friday. For the full holiday shopping season, Adobe predicts online sales will grow 10% over last year, to $207 billion — a new record.
Analysts had warned the supply chain and staffing issues behind a recent spike in the price of good and services might make some items hard to find. Come noon, few Cobb shoppers said they had had trouble finding everything on their list. But Black Friday deal hounds did note that markdowns were disappointing compared to those in years past.
Taking a break from pursuing the wares at Avenue West Cobb’s Altar’d State, Acworth’s Jennifer Martin said she was conflicted.
“We like having the stores and we don’t want them to shut down because we enjoy coming in and actually looking at things, but it’s just easier to order things online,” she said.
But her daughter, Julia Martin, was excited to get out of the house; after all, on Black Friday, she feels she can finally afford some of the things she wants to buy.