Retailers in Merced say they’re optimistic about the holiday shopping season, as a steady procession of customers came out to score deals at local businesses on Black Friday.
Similar to scenes elsewhere in the Valley, the frenzied crowds of pre-pandemic years haven’t quite returned locally. The scene was calm Friday morning as a moderate number of customers strolled at a relaxed pace through the Merced Mall, and there was no shortage of parking.
“For Black Friday today, we’ve seen a good amount of traffic coming into the store,” said Bethany Lloyd, general manager of J.C. Penney in the Merced Mall.
JCPenney, like many big-box retailers, has been running its Black Friday deals all month long. Some of the most popular items Lloyd said the store was selling the most of slippers, coats, jackets, sleepwear and small electrics like Crock-Pots and other small items.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic may be partially responsible for smaller Black Friday crowds, retail industry analysts have noted shoppers began changing their habits before 2020.
“Black Friday stopped being a one-day event years ago, and this year some consumers started shopping for Christmas as early as Halloween,” said Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation president and CEO, in a press release.
“NRF is encouraging consumers to shop safely and shop early, but retailers are confident they have enough inventory on hand to meet holiday demand.”
According to the NRF, two-thirds, or 66%, of shoppers this holiday season plan to shop over Thanksgiving weekend — roughly 158.3 million people. That’s an increase over last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, but below the 165.3 million people out shopping on Thanksgiving weekend in 2019, the NRF said.
However, retail managers in Merced are starting to see signs of customer activity picking back up to where it was pre-pandemic.
“It’s kind of getting back to normal, kind of like how it has been in the past,” Lloyd said. “We’re seeing a good increase in traffic so far, it looks like, and it’s a little early in the day.”
There were also plenty of shoppers in other big-box stores in Merced like Best Buy and Target, although employees at those comment on Thanksgiving weekend sales.
Small business Saturday
Meanwhile, in downtown Merced many smaller businesses were also ramping up for holiday weekend sales.
Gottchalk Music Center on West Main Street anticipated more customers late in the day on Black Friday and a crowd the following day — when many customers would be out doing “Small Business Saturday” shopping.
“It’s a little bit slower in the morning just because people are getting over eating themselves into a coma, so it doesn’t pick up until a little bit later in the afternoon,” said Elliot Aguilar, an employee of Gottschalk Music Center. “Usually Saturday is the day that gets busy after Black Friday.”
For some small business in the Merced community, customer sales look like they’re heading in the direction of bouncing back.
“People are testing out instruments again and there’s a lot more leniency when it comes to people coming and going nowadays, whereas last year, they didn’t,” Aguilar said. “Things have gotten better. There’s a lot more room for people to try out things and enjoy the store like we used to.”
Customers who went Black Friday shopping in person were happy to be out, with many looking for holiday gifts for kids, in particular.
“The main focus was Christmas shopping on toys for the kids,” Preslee Alvarez, a mother of two who was shopping at Target with her husband, Angel. “We’re looking for outdoors stuff so they can go outside and play. They’re into games too much, so we want to get them outside.”