Don't tell the Mall of America that online shopping is killing stores — or that it would regret not being open on Thanksgiving this year.
To the contrary, executives of the Bloomington megamall say their decision to stay closed on the holiday and to start Black Friday sales on Friday paid off big time.
This year, an estimated 250,000 shoppers flocked to the mall on Black Friday, crowning it as the busiest day for the mall in at least the last decade. Traffic was up 25 percent compared with the same day in 2015 and up 23 percent from 2014, according to mall executives. It surpassed all other top shopping days, including the Saturday before Christmas.
Not only that, but the mall's traffic over three days, from Friday to Sunday, was higher than its four-day traffic last year when the weekend also included Thanksgiving Day.
To help drum up excitement, the mall dangled a number of giveaways and scratch-off tickets to the first customers through its doors throughout the weekend. About 1,500 people were waiting in line for its 5 a.m. opening on Friday and it only grew busier throughout the day. The early numbers were confirmation for mall officials that they made the right call in taking a stand against shopping on the holiday.
"It was the right decision, and we were glad that we made it," said Jill Renslow, the mall's senior vice president of marketing and business development. "We heard from people throughout the day — whether they were from out of town or from here in the metro — who were so supportive of the decision and wanted to support us. So it was fantastic."
Given the huge response, she said it's a fair bet that the mall will stay closed on Thanksgiving next year, too. She hoped others around the country would do the same.
"What's great is that a lot of retailers witnessed the great success on Friday," she said. "We're hoping that they'll get a chance to step back and really think about their decisions for next year as well."
According to an annual survey for the National Retail Federation, about 3 million more consumers shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend — about 154 million shoppers compared with 151 million in 2015. However, average spending per person dropped slightly as consumers took advantage of deep discounts on products and focused on items that were on sale.
Of those who shopped, more people — about 109 million — went online. About 99 million shoppers went to stores. Millions shopped both.
Online sales from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday were up 16.4 percent, setting a new record, according to Adobe Digital Insights. And online sales on Cyber Monday appeared strong and were forecast to be up 9 percent for the day to reach $3.36 billion, which would set another record despite many retailers starting those sales earlier than Monday, the firm said.
While online shopping is on the rise, the mall continues to be a big draw with its mix of stores, other attractions and events.
Its amusement park and aquarium, for example, saw double-digit jumps in traffic over the weekend even when most people were mostly there to go shopping.
Around the Twin Cities, holiday shopping is expected to be robust with the average household planning to spend $918, up 8 percent from last year and the most ever in an annual survey by researchers at the University of St. Thomas. The Mall of America, as it has been for the last decade, was expected to be the most popular destination in town for holiday shopping.
"It's truly an iconic location," said Jon Seltzer, a marketing professor who worked on the study.
With the mall's Thanksgiving announcement several weeks ahead of the holiday, shoppers had time to readjust their shopping plans, he said. But he said each retailer or shopping center needs to develop an individual strategy around Thanksgiving.
"Every retailer has to recognize who is their competition, what is their offering and what makes the most sense," he said. "Many stores have goods that other people are selling. But the Mall of America has a large number of unique offerings that the consumer is clearly willing to postpone" their shopping to wait to go there.
Only Sears, Macy's and the Crayola Experience at the Mall of America were open on Thanksgiving Day since they mostly have their own exterior entrances. They reported "decent traffic," said Renslow. But the rest of the mall's 520-plus stores remained closed as the mall decided instead to give most of the 15,000 employees who work there the day off.
Burnsville Center also closed on Thanksgiving, while its anchor stores remained open.
Meanwhile, big-box stores such as Target, Best Buy, Macy's and Kohl's attracted lines outside their stores for Thanksgiving openings, and the corridors at many shopping centers such as Eden Prairie Center and Rosedale Center were hopping that night.
The mall started using a new system to count traffic a little more than a decade ago so it can't say for sure if Black Friday this year was the biggest day in its 24-year history, but employees can't recall a busier day, Renslow said.
MOA measures traffic through car counters in parking lots and surface lots and also factors in people arriving via transit and hotel shuttles.
Renslow said improvements in the economy such as lower unemployment and rising wages also probably helped to boost the mall's numbers over the weekend.
While national figures pointed to a small dip in spending over the weekend, she said early indications are that the mall's stores had a record-breaking sales weekend. too.
"We talked to some of the bigger players in the mall and they were ecstatic about not only the traffic but also in the consumer spend as well," she said.