The Black Friday shopping bonanza appeared to get off to a strong start as consumers flocked to websites and stores to snap up big-screen TVs, gaming consoles, movies and toys.
Those are often the hottest sellers during one of the biggest shopping events of the year. There were also some surprising hits this year, such as a 3-foot-tall teddy bear that sold out within minutes at many Target stores.
The initial Black Friday sales reports began trickling in Friday, but the final numbers won’t be in until later this weekend. That’s when retailers will get a better handle on how discounts earlier in November impacted sales on Thanksgiving and the actual Black Friday as well as the extent to which online sales sapped away some of the traffic from physical stores.
Retailers put more of their so-called “doorbuster deals” online this year, leading to some hiccups as online traffic overwhelmed some sites.
Neiman Marcus’ website was down for several hours on Friday. And some disgruntled online shoppers took to Twitter on Thanksgiving morning to complain that they were having trouble buying some items from Walmart.com.
Ravi Jariwala, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said some shoppers did experience some slowness on its site as the doorbusters were released around 2 a.m. Thursday. This year, he noted, the company put 96 percent of its doorbuster deals online, up from about 90 percent last year.
“Literally as those items went live on the site, we saw an incredible surge in traffic,” he said. “The good news is the vast majority of customers were able to check out successfully.”
Walmart.com sold out of a 10-foot Skywalker trampoline and a Nintendo 3DS in the first half-hour they went on sale online, he said.
Last year, Best Buy had to take its website offline several times on Black Friday due to a surge in traffic from mobile devices. This year, the Richfield-based retailer had a much smoother experience. Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly noted that the company has been working hard in the last year to handle the higher traffic loads.
Minneapolis-based Target Corp., whose website nearly crashed during the launch of its Lilly Pulitzer designer collaboration earlier this year, has increased its mobile app’s capacity to handle traffic sevenfold since last year. On Thursday night, CEO Brian Cornell told reporters that Target.com had not had any issues.
Cornell, who spent Thanksgiving night in stores in New Jersey and New York, also said traffic appeared to be very strong in stores for the retailer’s 6 p.m. store opening. Big-screen TVs, other electronics such as the Apple Watch and iPads helped drive some of that traffic.
Target said Friday that Thanksgiving Day was its biggest day of online sales to date, driven largely by electronics. Its top-selling product online was the Nintendo Wii U.
Adobe, which monitors online sales, said digital retail sales overall were on track to be up 22 percent over last Thanksgiving Day and likely exceeded $1.7 billion. But that also meant out-of-stock rates were more than double the normal level.
“Out of stock is an even bigger problem today than we expected,” Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst for Adobe Digital Index, said in a statement Thursday.
Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation (NRF), said Friday that there were reports around the U.S. of long lines outside of stores on Thanksgiving night and of record-breaking online sales.
Nearly 60 percent of shoppers — or 136 million people — were expected to shop between Thanksgiving Day and Sunday, according to the NRF. Those numbers are roughly in line with last year.
While many commentators have been proclaiming the death of brick-and-mortar stores, Charlie O’Shea, an analyst with Moody’s, said Black Friday highlights how important the in-store shopping experience still is for many shoppers.
“There’s still a lot of shoppers that don’t shop online,” he said. “And a lot of people like to go to the stores — the thrill of the chase, the thrill of the hunt.”
One of those shoppers was Travis Campbell, of Minneapolis, who waited in line for three hours outside the Best Buy in Minnetonka to buy a 48-inch Samsung TV. He knew he could have bought it online.
“But I wanted to get it in my hands the day of,” he said.
Staff writer Mike Hughlett contributed to this report.