US Shoppers Kick Off Holiday Season With a Muted Black Friday

US retailers discounted heavily on Black Friday to clear out bloated inventories but customers responded with only modest traffic, leaving profitability in doubt for many chains.

Crowds were thin in the late morning at Connecticut’s Stamford Town Center mall, with few shoppers at Kay Jewelers and just a small line at Forever 21. A couple at a Walmart Inc. supercenter near Dallas reveled in the lack of crowds as they bought presents for their grandchildren. At the Stonestown mall in San Francisco, shoppers were few and far between.

“It feels like a normal day,” said Miguel Martinez, 35, a warehouse supervisor walking through a Target Corp. store on Chicago’s North Side with his 12-year-old daughter, Jaylen. Martinez said he’s been cutting back on cable TV and Netflix to afford presents for his four children. He described the Black Friday discounts as “pretty good” as he picked up a couple of Amazon Echo Dot speakers, Nerf guns and a Disney Encanto doll.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, which were hit hard by Covid-19 closures and shoppers seeking to avoid the virus, saw in-store traffic tick up 2.9% this Black Friday compared to 2021, according to preliminary data compiled by Sensormatic Solutions.

US consumers are still spending, but they’re growing more cautious after contending this year with the highest inflation rates in four decades. They’re also keeping a sharper lookout for deals, and retailers — many of them still heavy with inventory after misjudging an erosion in demand — are trying to stand out by dangling the deepest discounts since before the pandemic.