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Panic buying preempted ‘Black Friday’

Even before retailers opened their doors early Friday morning, e-commerce shoppers in the United States had already spent $76 billion since early November, up more than 20 percent from the year-ago period, according to data from software company Adobe, which has projected somewhat fewer promotions this year in light of rising costs

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EMPTY shelves and fewer shoppers marked Black Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Big profits from the annual sale were clinched ahead by the online shops and services. / SPR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK (AFP) — Americans returned to stores for the “Black Friday” kickoff of the holiday shopping season, but online data shows that consumers have been spending big for weeks amid worries over shortages.

The day after the US Thanksgiving celebration is the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, and normally sees Americans line up outside stores before they open to clinch deals on popular items.

After the pandemic kept crowds away last year, many shoppers were out in force Friday, a sign of how Covid-19 vaccines have returned life in the United States to something closer to normal.

“I just wanted to make sure that this Christmas was a good Christmas for all my friends and family,” said a masked Sylvia Gonzalez as she waited in line outside the jewelry chain Pandora in New York.

But even before retailers opened their doors early Friday morning, e-commerce shoppers in the United States had already spent $76 billion since early November, up more than 20 percent from the year-ago period, according to data from software company Adobe, which has projected somewhat fewer promotions this year in light of rising costs.

The jump has added to companies’ optimism about the season, suggesting some shoppers heeded calls from businesses to purchase items early this year after port backlogs and other logistics problems sparked worries that popular goods would be in short supply.

Toys led the buying spree, with Adobe pointing to actions by “anxious parents increasingly aware of supply chain challenges.”

The National Retail Federation projects overall spending could rise as much as 10.5 percent to $859 billion.

Nonetheless, out-of-stock listings online are up 261 percent compared with two years ago, according to Adobe.

Retailers and market watchers are broadly optimistic about the holiday shopping season in light of low unemployment and relatively strong household finances due in part to pandemic stimulus bills enacted by the government.

Countering those positive trends are lingering supply chain problems, spiking consumer prices that have affected household staples such as food and fuel, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still far from over.

On Friday, stock markets worldwide tumbled on worries that the latest strain of the virus found in South Africa could derail the global recovery.

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