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Get It Low? 'Frozen 2' Merch Was Among Hot Products As Black Friday Tradition Cools


Black Friday is the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. More than 114 million Americans were expected to shop yesterday - almost 67 million today. That's a lot of shopping.

NPR's retail correspondent Alina Selyukh joins us. Alina, what are the expectations for the holiday sales this year?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Well, it's probably not a very shocking development for you, but shoppers are expected to spend even more money this year than they did last year. The National Retail Federation predicts that over this holiday shopping season - so through Christmas - Americans will spend around $730 billion. That's with a B.

A lot of that will still happen at physical stores. But a survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PWC, for the first time this year found that the majority of shoppers are saying they plan to do most of their holiday shopping online rather than in stores. And that's actually one of the reasons why, to me and a lot of retail watchers, one of the biggest themes this year is this slow change of the meaning of Black Friday.

SIMON: Is it beginning to disappear, or is it just going online?

SELYUKH: Well, we have to be clear that it still is the busiest shopping day of the year for most stores. But for the past two years, the number of people heading to stores for those doorbuster deals has inched lower. Shoppers are now armed with smartphones. They can do instant price checks on what's going on at other stores. Is it worth standing in line here?

I talked to Peter Fader, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. And he says more stores are also realizing that maybe people who only show up one weekend in November are not the best customers. And so they're broadening their appeal with really strong online discounts and sales on so many other days of the year, including more made up shopping holidays like Cyber Monday, this coming Monday, or Prime Day.

And this year also because the calendar gave us a super late Thanksgiving - there fewer days between now and Christmas - some stores started offering Black Friday sales, like, weeks earlier, back in October. And all this is washing out that meaning of Black Friday. It's still huge but maybe not the focal point of holiday shopping.

SIMON: Alina, what's going to make parents desperate this year...

SELYUKH: (Laugher).

SIMON: ...And people stand in line? What's going to be big?

SELYUKH: Well, overall, the top sellers are clothes and gift cards. But then, as you're alluding to, the toys are huge. Actually, my colleague Darius Rafieyan spent Black Friday at the iconic Toys R Us. You may remember the company went bankrupt in 2017. But a former executive is trying to bring back, starting with two locations. The first one in New Jersey opened on Black Friday. And there, Darius spoke to shopper Monica Mallen.

MONICA MALLEN: It's been kind of a staple growing up. So we've been doing Black Friday on Toys R Us for many years up until they closed their doors. So I'm kind of excited to see it come back.

SELYUKH: And as far as the hottest toys of the season go, the classics like Legos and Barbies, Hot Wheels and the American Girl dolls, they're still at the top of the list for many shoppers. But internet sales tracked by Adobe analytics show that so far this week, online the biggest sellers are LOL Surprise! dolls and pretty much anything related to the movie "Frozen 2."

SIMON: Ah. So Sven and Olaf coming to a shelf near you. NPR's Alina Selyukh, thanks so much.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEEZER SONG, "LOST IN THE WOODS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.