Black Friday shoppers say stores are short on merchandise, staff as major holiday season kicks off

Breana Noble Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Novi — Empty spots on shelves and short-staffed stores didn't go unnoticed by Black Friday shoppers who flocked to Metro Detroit malls for holiday shopping, kicking off what experts predict could be the strongest holiday season in almost a quarter-century.

Despite the cold and snow, customers were ready to shop with pent-up demand after skipping Black Friday 2020 — the year of the pandemic — and staying home on Thursday with many stores closed for Thanksgiving. Global consulting firm AlixPartners LLP is forecasting U.S. retail holiday sales will increase 10% to 13% over last year’s holiday season for the strongest holiday sales period since 1999.

Lisa Stawarz, 49, of Livonia, has gone out every year to shop except last year because of the pandemic: "It's good to be able to get out again."

Getting out means she and Heidi Grogan, 28, of Madison Heights were able to pick up the annual holiday charm they collect for their bracelets from Pandora, which was holding a 30% sale and had a short queue outside its door at Twelve Oaks.

"Traffic has been good the past few months. We are very full and tenant demand is strong," said Daniel Jones, general manager of Twelve Oaks, which still is missing two anchors after the closures of Sears and Lord & Taylor. "Staffing challenges are real. We've had some stores have to limit their hours or how many people can be in their store."

Black Friday shopping was 'a zoo'

Stores like Bath & Body Works, Crocs, Lululemon and Victoria's Secret had customers in lines throughout the morning on Black Friday at Twelve Oaks. And in the afternoon, thousands were still walking the three floors of Somerset Collection in Troy.

Among the thousands were grandma and granddaughter Beth LaBointe, 71, and Peytan LaBointe, 13, both of Toledo, taking a break after hitting Nordstrom, American Eagle and other shops. They drove the hour and a half to Somerset because "it's the best place to shop, but this year will be the last Black Friday shopping excursion, Beth said. 

"The lines are long," Beth said, noting she also couldn't find the Bobbi Brown makeup from Nordstrom's she likes because of the supply struggles stores are facing.

Twelve Oaks' Pacsun had a line winding through the store, which had one shopper walking into the store and back out the door, commenting, "It's a zoo."

Demand remains strong after consumers saved their money and paid off debts during more than a year of pandemic-induced uneasiness and uncertainty. Consumers now are looking to spend money this holiday season. Sales include TVs under $300 at Target Corp. to $199 recliners at Big Lots Inc. 

"America saved money during the shutdown," said James Hines, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan. "People want things. They've put off getting things, and government programs have stimulated demand and continue to stimulate demand."

But it seems gone are the days of customers camping out for hours outside of stores for doorbuster steals since many are promoting "all-week deals" online and in-store and only some special Black Friday-specific sales.  

"The Black Friday sales have been going on for days, if not weeks, and some are already advertising their cyber Monday sales today," said Adam Pressman, managing director of retail practice for AlixPartners. "Many folks, because of supply chain challenges that we're all experiencing firsthand, we're pulling their shopping earlier, just to make sure they can try to get the products that they were looking for."

Nicky Miller, 60, of Taylor has seen the change over the years: "It's not the same as it used to be. We used to get up at 3. We got here at 6 when Macy's opened."

Still, malls in Metro Detroit were bustling, showing the continuing need for brick-and-mortar, said Amy Jurecki, senior general manager at Southland Center: "customers still want to see, feel and try on. They don't want to worry about delays in shipping."

Although he hadn't shopped in a mall in 15 years, Winston Laughlin, 49, of Detroit found himself Friday at Southland Center: "I just moved from Tennessee three months ago. It's all online shopping there."

He was invited to the mall by friend Michael Jefferson, 49, of Westland.

"Our wives don't like going out on Black Friday," he said. "This is the only time we can go shopping without them."

Bare shelves, higher prices

Despite the boost to the economy from an increase in holiday spending, there's concern over rising inflation brought on, in part, by low supply and high demand. The pandemic crunched the global supply chain, slowing down the manufacturing and delivery of products and caused businesses to wrestle with meeting demand.

The consumer price index increased 6.2% from October 2020 to October 2021, marking the largest increase since the period ending November 1990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The level of rising inflation could stifle economic growth, but beyond that, it could severely affect prices on certain goods and services more than others.

‘Black Friday’ shopping at Somerset Mall in Troy, Michigan on November 26, 2021.

"Part of the difficulty is that there is no single inflation rate for the whole economy," Hines said. "Different things that people buy inflate at different rates. ... It's not like the whole economy's inflation rate is 6%; it's not like every price went up 6% — some went up 10% and some went up 2%. That's what really hits people."

Delorean Ferrell, 35, of Novi began waiting outside Best Buy in hopes of grabbing a PlayStation 5, a gaming console whose production has been hit by the global shortage of microchips: "I don't even know if they have it," he said. "I hope so."

This location, however, didn't have the PS5 in stock when it's doors opened. Shelves for the Nintendo Switch also were bare.

Others didn't see the sales they were hoping for: "I was looking for a good deal on the new iPhone," Kumar Guru, 30, of Farmington Hills said of another product hit by the semiconductor shortage. "They didn't really have any."

Some customers noticed stores had holes between merchandise on shelves, displays farther apart than usual or fewer items than they normally would have stocked.

"We couldn't find the right sizes at some stores," Jennifer Sears, 37, of Allen Park said while shopping at Southland Center. She did find success, though, at Macy's, grabbing a $200 jacket for $80 and $50 shirt for $30.

But customers exiting the Hall Road Macomb Township Target felt the supply was ample and the service stupendous.  

"They were well stocked," said Kathy Muzyk, 63 of Macomb, who was out with her husband, Jeff, Friday afternoon picking up gifts for the grandkids.

"Everyone was incredibly helpful and polite, which was nice," Jeff added. "Because getting service anywhere nowadays is limited."

 Back at Twelve Oaks, a couple of new stores had their grand opening on Friday including Rebel Nell, a Detroit-based handmade jewelry shop that looks to hire people with barriers to employment, which was offering 25% off its sale items for the occasion.

"This is a unique year for small businesses," said Amy Peterson, Rebel Nell co-founder and CEO. "I don't think any of us know what to expect, because we're still not out of the clear with COVID. I hope that the push and support for small businesses is still there, because we actually need it more this year."

Krispy Addicts Clothing Boutique, a streetwear seller with locations in downtown Detroit and the historic Avenue of Fashion, hasn’t seen a “normal” Black Friday yet. There was construction on Livernois Avenue in 2019, and 2020 had COVID-19 pandemic protocols. This year, supply-chain issues are causing delays up to a month in the delivery of merchandise, but the small business has gotten creative in making up for those delays by expanding its merchandise line with products it makes in Detroit.

“It’s a waiting game, so we just make our own stuff,” co-owner Charles Micheaux said. “It was one of our agenda items to make sure we had enough to make it through not only Black Friday, but through the holiday season.”

Waiting for the 5 a.m. deals

Early in the morning, a line of shoppers swung around the corner of the Best Buy store in Novi ahead of its 5 a.m. opening. Customers were in search of deals on laptops, TVs and hard-to-find gaming consoles.

Sebastian Semma, 20, of Novi carries his new 50" flat screen tvs to his truck Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, after purchasing them at Best Buy in Novi..

Shoppers began lining up outside Best Buy around 3 a.m. Adam McCann, 16, and Kegan Abbott, 15, of Oakland County, were looking to get gaming computers and a virtual-reality headset: "It was worth it," McCann said. "We're in the front of the line."

Others were less optimistic: "It's definitely not worth it for us," said Paul Calin, 27, of Farmington Hills, who was bundled up in a winter coat this 28-degree morning to get a laptop for school. "The deals are fine. It's just too cold."

Sierra Duncan, 22, of Northville pushed a flat-bed cart with three TVs to her family's vehicle after a successful shopping expedition at Best Buy.

"TVs were all at least $100 off," she said. "I always flip through the pages to look for ads and stuff. We're going to Old Navy next for clothing for the year."

Beaulah Morris was thankful for the Black Friday discounts to buy her granddaughter a bottle of Flowerbomb perfume: "It was kind of pricey," the 71-year-old Southland resident said. "But I was able to get it on sale."

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