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Has The Black Friday Madness Been Tamed?


It's Black Friday, and our tireless correspondent Sonari Glinton was up all night last night. And he's been out today, too, hitting the stores and talking with shoppers. He's been to Toys R Us, Target, Kmart, and joins us now from the Century City shopping mall in Los Angeles. Hey, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Hey, Elise, how you doing?

HU: Great. So this is the seventh year you've covered Black Friday. Does this year feel different at all?

GLINTON: Well, it feels different because most of the action seems to be on Friday. I remember about two or three years ago I was covering Gray Wednesday when on Wednesday night they - stores were opening at midnight. And now the busiest time seems to be somewhere during the day on Black Friday. So that's a big change from years past.

HU: And in previous years, say, like five or 10 years ago, there was all sorts of footage about, you know, a frenzied Black Friday with people trampling over each other at 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock in the morning, fistfights breaking out. Did anything like that happen today, or is that a thing of the past?

GLINTON: It's essentially a thing of the past. There are still going to be those doorbuster deals where people are going to line up, but for the most part I think that the American consumer has sort of gotten wise and pushed back, and so have retailers. They realize if they open on Thursday all day on Thursday, then there's going to be fewer people on Friday. And now with online cutting deeply into brick-and-mortar retail, people know that they have options. They might be able to get that deal on Black Friday, but they know they can get it on Monday or, you know, a few days before Christmas.

HU: So it sounds like Black Friday is tamer than in years past. Is it your sense that shoppers are spending less on Christmas or just shopping differently?

GLINTON: Well, it's a little bit of both. They are shopping very, very differently. Right now mobile sales are taking up the majority of sales from online. And they're going to spend a little bit more this year, but not as much as you would expect when you have low unemployment, you have a gangbusters stock market, and consumer confidence is pretty high. Overall, people seem to be spending just a little bit less on things and more on experiences. So at the mall here you might spend an extra little bit of money, you know, on the bottle of wine or the massage as opposed to say, you know, buying the new latest, hottest thing.

HU: Between last night and today you've been to a lot of different kinds of stores that we mentioned. Which ones seem to be doing the best?

GLINTON: Well, it's interesting. You know, the ones that are in trouble seem to be in trouble. So I was at Kmart, Toys R Us. Their crowds were sort of loose. They were open, you know, late. But, you know, the Targets, Costco was jamming. And those are the retailers that are doing well. We also should remember, of course, Bloomberg is reporting today that Jeff Bezos is worth a hundred billion dollars and his Amazon/Whole Foods, they were going gangbusters this morning especially. And Wal-Mart can never be forgotten.

And those two retailers, it's what Black Friday and really the whole season is about. Are you able to provide an experience that's better than just ordering it online? And that's what retailers at a big fancy mall like Century City are trying to do. And that's why some of the people like Kmart, Sears, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and those people are in trouble.

HU: All right, that was NPR's Sonari Glinton, who is at Century City mall in Los Angeles. Sonari, thank you.

GLINTON: Always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.