Nov 25 (Reuters) - Thin crowds of inflation-weary consumers hunted for Black Friday deals at stores in big cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other locales, marking the start of a U.S. holiday shopping season crucial to retailers in an uncertain economy.
Many shoppers who opened their wallets said their purchases were strategic, not impulsive or splurges.
"We've been waiting" for discounts, said Tulio Rose, 28, who picked up a big-screen TV at a Best Buy store in Los Angeles, while shopping with Barnisha Nill, 35. They saved about $500 on the 85-inch (2.16-meter) Samsung TV for their new apartment.
About 166 million people were planning to shop from Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday through this coming "Cyber Monday," according to the National Retail Federation, almost 8 million more than last year. But with sporadic rain in some parts of the country, stores were less busy than usual on Black Friday.
"Usually at this time of the year you struggle to find parking. This year, I haven't had an issue getting a parking spot," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser of the NPD Group Inc.
"It's a lot of social shopping, everybody is only looking to get what they need. There is no sense of urgency," Cohen added, based on his store checks in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
At the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, there were no lines outside stores. A Toys 'R' Us employee was handing out flyers with a list of the Black Friday "door buster" promotions.
Those who made it to the mall were surprised at the deals.
"There's a lot of deals that weren't advertised. Some of the stores I got 50% off everything I bought," said Christine Chavez, 45. She added that she is primarily gift shopping and picked up items from Victoria Secret and Torrid.
"I was hesitant to come to the mall, and I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised," Chavez added.
At a Dollar Tree (DLTR.O) store in Rockville, Maryland, shoppers said they were looking for specific items or picking up household items like sodas and dish sponges.
J.R. Moran, 49, gripped strands of red and green tinsel and felt antlers, which he planned to use for an "ugly sweater." But he said he would make other holiday purchases online.
"Online shopping is more convenient nowadays," Moran said.
Online sales will reach between $9 billion and $9.2 billion this Black Friday, a report from Adobe Analytics showed. The projection is slightly ahead of the company's earlier forecast of $9 billion, which would represent a modest 1% increase from last year.
According to Adobe, U.S. shoppers spent nearly 3% more online on Thanksgiving Day with purchases made on mobile phones driving the increase. Adobe Analytics, which measures e-commerce by tracking transactions at websites, has access to data covering purchases at 85% of the top 100 internet retailers in the United States.
Americans, especially from low-income households, are expected to pull back this year as inflation and higher energy prices pinch spending power. Europe's retailers face a worsening cost-of-living crisis and the distraction of the soccer World Cup.
Retailers are offering steep discounts both online and in stores, which may pinch profit margins in the fourth quarter.
Consulting firm Kearney said its checks showed apparel retailers were the most active with sales, offering as much as 60% off on merchandise. TV sets and electronics also bore strong discounts to tempt consumers who have been tightening their purse strings.
Walmart (WMT.N) ramped up marketing for the holiday, purchasing ad space on Twitter and Instagram, during National Football League games and on billboards near New York City's Penn Station.
Amazon (AMZN.O) was offering a plethora of deals, including up to 42% off on Roomba vacuums, 45% off on Calvin Klein men's T-shirts and up to 50% off on Chromebooks from Lenovo, HP, Acer and ASUS.
"It's hard to tell how Black Friday is panning out so far," said Michael Brown, a partner at Kearney. "We have to look at the whole holiday season. The slowness in purchasing might get pushed out to Cyber Monday or further."
Black Friday is expected to bring in $9 billion from online sales, a modest increase of 1% from last year, with shoppers now flocking to brick-and-mortar stores after a COVID-19 pandemic-led pause over the last two years.
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