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Retailers Prepare For Holiday Shopping


It is Black Friday. It's a big day for retailers, and this year seems like the perfect setup. Unemployment is low. The stock market is strong. So is that going to mean big-time holiday shopping? NPR's Sonari Glinton is out there getting a firsthand look.

Hey, Sonari.


KING: Where are you right now?

GLINTON: I am in the parking lot of the Toys R Us in midtown Los Angeles.

KING: And is it packed?

GLINTON: No, it's not packed, but there are - there were tons of people inside sort of milling around. This seems to be, like, the early bird special. Actually, I saw a bunch of kids inside, which is...

KING: (Laughter) Impressive...

GLINTON: ...Seems like it defeats the purpose to me.

KING: Well, that's also pretty impressive that they dragged themselves out of bed.

GLINTON: Yeah, exactly. Toys R Us is one of those companies that is going to be on for 25 hours...

KING: Wow.

GLINTON: ...Beginning on Thanksgiving through to the end of Black Friday.

KING: This is not your first time at the rodeo. How does what you're seeing today compare to what you've seen in years past?

GLINTON: Well, it's been a lot different over the years. I remember when we would be doing Gray Wednesday stories. This was about...

KING: (Laughter).

GLINTON: ...Two years ago where - no, literally, stores were opening at midnight on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. But sort of - consumers have rebelled. Right? So they've said, no, we would prefer to do it on Friday. And so last year, the most popular hour was Black Friday at noon, whereas a couple of years ago, the most popular hour for shopping was Thanksgiving and at 6 p.m. So that's a little nuts.

KING: Hey - so we talked about this in the intro. There are some good economic indicators this year. - right? - low unemployment, a really strong stock market. What are the economists you're talking to saying about holiday shopping this year? Is it going to be gangbusters?

GLINTON: No, not gangbusters, at least for her brick-and-mortar retailers, right? So right now we already are seeing record sales on smartphones, so that's a thing. But the places where I'm at like Toys R Us, the sort of middle tier - the Sears, the K-Marts - those stores are not going to do as well.

However, where we're going to see some growth are, you know, the big online retailers like Amazon and Walmart, who are going to duke it out for supremacy during this holiday shopping season.

KING: And have the online retailers grown in the past year? I mean, from 2016 to 2017, do you think this year the online retailers will be eating up an even bigger share of the holiday shopping season?

GLINTON: Yeah, each year it's about more online and when you can get it online. And it's give it to me with free shipping, get it to me quickly and giving it to me with all the variety you can - and that's really what online is. But here's an interesting thing. In America, what we're looking at is people are craving the experience. So the stores and the malls that create shopping experiences are going to get back more customers. I mean, they already are.

And we're seeing that there is a lot of money being spent on experiences as we sort of shift away - you know, the data is saying that we're shifting away from material things and going a little bit more towards experiences - you know, things like spa treatments or going to the mall for dinner as opposed to dropping a bunch of money.

KING: Well, if you're going to be out there all day, I do hope you get some of those experiences yourself.

GLINTON: Oh, you know I will. I'm always in the black when I'm talking to you. You know what I'm saying.

KING: NPR's Sonari Glinton. Thanks so much, Sonari.

GLINTON: Always a pleasure.


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.