In her first Black Friday as CEO of Best Buy, Corie Barry made a point of trying to shake every employee’s hand as a line of shoppers waiting outside the Richfield store swelled and snaked around the building.
“Hi, how are you?” she said as she walked around the store on Thanksgiving night. “I’m Corie. Are you ready?”
Minutes before the store opened, she stood in the middle of a circle of blue-shirted employees, dressed in a blue shirt of her own as well as blue tennis shoes and black pants, and offered her gratitude. Just as many of them had to leave family celebrations early, she told them she left her 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter at home after a quick brunch to come to work on the holiday.
“After 20 years of no Thanksgivings, or limited Thanksgivings, I get it,” she said. “It’s not easy. And at the same time, you’ll make technology dreams come true. … You’re going to make some kid, some mom, some grandma’s Christmas better because you are here.”
When the doors opened at 5 p.m., she stood in front of a display of Kitchen-Aid mixers and clapped, offering shoppers high-fives, directions to products, and a big smile.
Minnesota’s hometown big-box retailers, Target and Best Buy, have resurrected themselves to be among the strongest players in retail right now and are expected to have a good holiday, in contrast to many department stores and other mall-based retailers that have been struggling with the shift to online shopping.
Black Friday, which now starts on Thanksgiving Day and sometimes weeks in advance, is the traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
While it isn’t as big as it once was, particularly as some retailers have begun offering holiday sales before Halloween, the dayslong event still draws crowds of shoppers lured by deals, family traditions and cabin fever.
With most of the deals also offered online, the lines outside stores on Thanksgiving do not form as early as they once did when people camped outside in lines — at least not in Minnesota where the temperatures dipped into the 20s on Thursday night.
Benjamin Roybal of Minneapolis arrived at the Richfield Best Buy store at 1:30 p.m. and was surprised to snag the first spot in line. He was on the hunt for a 50-inch TV for his daughter.
But the parking lot was packed by the time the store opened.
Some of those who showed up when doors opened had already bought items online but wanted to pick them up the same day. Bob Smith of Bloomington, who was waiting at the pickup counter for online orders, said he had bought a 43-inch TV and soundbar online several hours earlier.
“I’m going to go home and hook it up and watch a movie,” he said, adding that his wife was waiting in the car and keeping it warm.
Busy shopping weekend
Nearly 40 million shoppers, a small uptick from last year, were planning to shop in stores and online on Thanksgiving Day, according to a survey for the National Retail Federation.
But Friday is still expected to be the busiest day of the weekend and of the year, according to some firms, attracting about 115 million shoppers.
Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are expected to draw nearly 70 million shoppers each day.
Most forecasts are calling for healthy sales this holiday season with an increase of 4 to 5%. But the predictions don’t always pan out. Last year, holiday sales came in below expectations at 2.1% higher, as the government shutdown, trade tensions and a stock market plunge made shoppers more cautious.
Across the Twin Cities, shoppers are expected to spend about $1,382 per household this holiday season, up from $1,238 last year, according to a survey by Deloitte. That’s despite some concerns about tariffs and the economy overall.
“At an individual level, the consumer is still strong and is expecting to spend,” said Matt Marsh, Deloitte’s retail leader in Minneapolis.
Many retailers have been holding Black Friday sales all month in a phenomenon dubbed “Black November,” which spreads out the sales all month and dilutes some of the historical frenzy of Black Friday week.
Still, many shoppers wait for Black Friday to make technology purchases in particular, said Stephen Baker with the NPD Group, adding that 36% of electronics sales during the holidays came during Black Friday weekend last year.
“That Black Friday weekend period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday is really the core of the holiday for technology,” he said.
At the Target in Edina, the line grew quickly in the half-hour before the store opened, said Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman. Electronics, home goods and small appliances seemed to be some of the items most in demand.
“I also saw some people run for the $10 sweaters,” he added.
A sale on DVDs brought Mickey Andrews of Bloomington to the store. Her daughter stood next to her holding a giant bear, a popular $10 “doorbuster” item at Target every year.
Andrews said she usually shops online but wanted to come out to the store on Thanksgiving night for the experience.
“I wanted to feel the rush,” she said.
As Barry rode in a Chevy Suburban from the Best Buy store in Apple Valley to the one in Richfield, she agreed that no matter how much you try to stimulate demand in advance, many people still wait to shop over this weekend.
“Trust me, every year even I wonder, are people still going to want to go out on Thanksgiving and go shopping?” she said. “And there they are lined up, all ready to get the best deals.”