‘A Strong Start:’ Macy’s and Kohl’s CEOs Herald a Black Friday That’s Already Surpassed Last Year’s

November 23, 2018, 6:00 PM UTC

So much for the demise of Black Friday.

The year’s biggest shopping weekend in the U.S. got off to a strong start, top retailers said on Friday morning, as strategies to start online deals earlier, while giving consumers an incentive to come to stores, paid off.

The long lines and occasional fisticuffs of Black Friday seem to be a thing of the pre-e-commerce past. The newer era of stretched-out store hours and growing online sales have meant stronger overall business on the shopping weekend that got underway on Thanksgiving on Thursday.

“It was a strong start, it was strong online all day on Thursday and then strong in stores when we opened them,” Macy’s (M) CEO Jeff Gennette told Fortune on Friday morning. Meanwhile Kohl’s (KSS) said it had a record day of online sales on Thursday. Walmart said traffic was “steady all [Thursday] night long.”

The good news for retailers went beyond those three chains as the early read among industry analysts was that shoppers in the aggregate were spending with gusto.

“More people have already shopped than at this point last year, and their average spend is higher,” Neil Saunders, a managing director at GlobalData Retail, wrote in a research note. Those who had already spent money by Friday morning had shelled out $407.20, up 2.1% over last year.

Several chains including Kohl’s and Walmart (WMT) started offering doorbusters online earlier this year, in the wee hours of Thanksgiving, and the move seemed to have paid off. According to Adobe Analytics, which tracks the transactions of 80 large online retailers, shoppers had spent $1.75 billion online by 5 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving, up 28.6% over the same time in 2017. Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass told Fortune sales on mobile phones generated 80% of digital traffic to its site.

As is tradition, consumers snapped up big ticket items on Black Friday, notably electronics such as Apple’s iPads and watches. For its part, Kohl’s, primarily an apparel-focused chain, is making a bigger play for electronics this year by ramping up its inventory of such products as it looks to win more young adults.

“This year, we did go deeper in our inventory on some the key items we ran out of too quickly last year,” Gass said, pointing to Playstations as an example. That has “increased our relevancy” to many Black Friday shoppers, she added. (Read more on Gass’s strategy for Kohl’s in the new issue of Fortune.)

Kohl’s, along with Target, J.C. Penney, and Walmart, reportedly did well with toys, a category top retailers are trying to get a bigger stake in given the demise of Toys ‘R’ Us.

The National Retail Federation expects U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December to increase between 4.3% and 4.8% over last year, reaching totals of between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion. Retailers, along with the analysts who cover them, are quick to say that the holiday season is still young, with 32 days left until Christmas, but the weekend’s results so far are promising.

“Black Friday isn’t always a harbinger of how the season goes,” Gennette said. “But it’s important.”

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