By Richa Naidu and Nandita Bose
CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stores offered deep discounts, entertainment and free gifts to draw bargain hunters on Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, but some shoppers said they were just eyeing goods, reserving their cash for online purchases.
A sharp rise in online sales made the overall picture more positive for traditional retailers expanding beyond brick-and-mortar, sending their shares higher. Stores had also carefully managed inventory, hoping to ward off any post-holiday liquidation that would weigh on profits.
There was little of the over-the-top frenzy that had been a hallmark of Black Friday in years past, and some stores appeared to be getting creative with gimmicks beyond heavy discounts.
But signs pointing to muted in-store sales – fewer cars in mall parking lots, shoppers leaving with no purchases – do not portend a weak holiday season as U.S. consumers are expected to spend more overall, analysts and industry executives said.
Black Friday sales were off to a strong start online, at $640 million of 10 a.m. ET (1500 GMT), according to Adobe Analytics, up 18.4 percent from a year ago. On Thanksgiving Day, U.S. shoppers spent more than $2.87 billion online.
Some stores and websites struggle to keep up. Some sites experienced brief outages, including Lowe’s, H&M and the Gap, according to website performance monitors.
And Macy’s Inc customers in states including Texas, Arizona and Illinois took to social media to complain about the retailer’s credit card processing system. The company said payment processing was taking longer than usual in its stores and it was working to fix the problem.
The hiccups dragged Macy’s shares 0.6 lower in extended trading. They had ended the regular session up 2.1 percent, boosted by comments from Chief Executive Jeff Gennette, who told CNBC Macy’s was better off this year than last, had robust online demand and was in a good place for holiday promotions.