Head start on holiday deals tempers Black Friday frenzy

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People shop at a Best Buy store during a Black Friday sale Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in Overland Park, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

NEW YORK, NY – Black Friday enthusiasts woke up before dawn and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls in search of hot deals, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But the ever-growing popularity of online shopping and holiday discounts that started weeks earlier dampened the frenzy. This year, more people got a head start on gift-hunting, lured by deals from retailers trying to compensate for the shorter season.

The shopping season is the shortest since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the last Thursday in November — the latest possible date it could be.

Shoppers up since the wee hours slept in chairs at Nashville’s Opry Mills mall, known for its outlet stores. Outside, deal-seekers were still fighting for parking spots by midmorning.

Haley Wright left Alabama at 4 a.m. to arrive at the Tennessee mall by 7 a.m. She makes the annual trip because she says the stores offer better deals and a more fun environment than the shops back home.

“I let my husband do the online shopping; I do Black Friday,” she said.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, baked the shorter season into its forecast, but it says the real drivers will be the job market. It forecasts that holiday sales will rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, an increase from the disappointing 2.1% growth in the November and December 2018 period that came well short of the group’s prediction.

NRF expects online and catalog sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 11% and 14% for the holiday period.