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Macy’s CEO: Stores as Important as Ever to Black Friday Success

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Macy's Flagship Store in Midtown ManhattanPhotograph by Richard Cummins — Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

With online sales up an estimated 22% on Thanksgiving, it’s easy to see why some might say brick-and-mortar stores are losing some relevance for events like the big Black Friday shopping weekend.

Not so, says Macy’s (M) chief executive Terry Lundgren.

The CEO, catching his breath after a near all-nighter at his store’s flagship in Manhattan’s Herald Square, spoke with Fortune Friday morning to share his thoughts on how the biggest shopping weekend of the year is going so far, why stores are as crucial as ever in the digital commerce age, and how shoppers’ behavior has been different so far this Black Friday weekend.

His thoughts echo those of his counterparts at Target (TGT), Kohl’s (KSS) and Saks Fifth Avenue owner HBC about the centrality of the interaction between digital commerce and stores.

Macy’s, which has hit a rough path this year with sales declining for several quarters, has spent billions in recent years to speed up the integration of stores and e-commerce.

Here is what Lundgren had to say:

What do you say to people who say brick-and-mortar retail is less important now for a successful Black Friday weekend? (Note: ChannelAdvisor estimated Friday morning that Amazon.com sales were up 29%, and 43% overall.)

“90% of all products are sold in stores–clearly consumers are still in stores. Cleary they’re still shopping and I don’t believe that’s going to change. I do believe that the experience that people are looking for today happens inside the store itself more than online.”

How was shopper traffic this year?

“There were 15,000 at our Manhattan store, and from 6:00 p.m. to 6:21 p.m., there was a continuous stream of people coming through the doors that never, ever let up.”

“I felt very good about the traffic and particularly as I got to the other stores (in the New York area) which is important to see, and their traffic was also strong.”

“They were shopping online, which has been strong for us all year, and they are shopping in-store which was important for us to see.”

How has consumer behavior evolved for Black Friday this year?

“People definitely do their research online or on their phone beforehand. We had a lot of people at the front door saying, ‘Where is the Fitbit? Where are the Charter Club (a Macy’s house brand) cashmere sweaters? I was a tour guide as much as anything else.”

“They were very specific with their questions about products they had researched and were going right for them.”

What categories did well last night and which ones could have been better?

“It was great to see the handbag business come back strong for us, the housewares business, including kitchen electronics, were terrific. Cashmere sweaters were a standout.”

“The category still not performing as well as we’d like is the outerwear business- we’re still not selling the number of coats we would like to sell, but I think that is going to happen when the temperature drops.”