‘Touch and feel’ of in-person shopping returns to Meriden Mall on Black Friday 



reporter photo

MERIDEN — Gone was the chaos of past Black Fridays, but shoppers were still out hunting deals at the Meriden Mall on the day after Thanksgiving. 

“The traffic has been steady,” said Todd Laird, manager of Boscov’s Department store at the mall. “It’s such an odd year. We’ve been doing the same as 2019, maybe more because we’ve been trending up all year. People still want to touch and feel.”

The mall closed on Thanksgiving, a departure from past years except for 2020 when the pandemic squelched most in-store shopping. Retailers, such as Boscov’s, are not including 2020 in their traffic and sales comparisons. 

The southern wing of the mall was deserted with empty Sears and Macy’s and the recently closed Best Buy providing a stark reminder of the volatility in the retail industry. But the northwestern end of the mall with Dick’s, TJ Maxx, Old Navy and Boscov’s was full of cars and bag-toting shoppers. 

“Yes the mall traffic is extremely strong this year,” said mall manager Chris Powers. “Most managers are stating they are trending up over there 2019 sales number. We see families and people with bags in their hands and smiles on their faces. The food court has been packed all day.”

Supply chain backlogs have put a dent in some inventories, but consumers were encouraged to shop early and often. 

Nearly two million more people than last year are expected to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year even as consumers have continued the trend of starting their holiday shopping earlier in the year, according to the annual survey released Friday by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

“We’re expecting another record-breaking holiday season this year and Thanksgiving weekend will play a major role as it always has,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press statement. “Nonetheless, consumers are starting earlier than ever to be sure they can get what they want, when they want it, at a price they want to pay.

“Black Friday stopped being a one-day event years ago, and this year some consumers started shopping for Christmas as early as Halloween,” Shay said. “NRF is encouraging consumers to shop safe and shop early, but retailers are confident they have enough inventory on hand to meet holiday demand.”

Shay told Fox Business last week reports from Walmart, Target, Best Buy indicate improved product supply.

“We’ve seen unprecedented amount of imports over the last two years, increased by 30 percent,” Shay said. “For all the creaking and groaning the supply chain makes, we’re actually fulfilling demand. We’ve had an incredible supply shock and an incredible demand shock” with the billions paid in stimulus payments. 

Shopper Marie Bellacourt of Meriden picked out a four-slice toaster for $24.99, one of Boscov’s door busters Friday. Bellacourt said she’s too busy to shop online and likes to see, touch and feel the merchandise. 

But Laird said he had to tell disappointed customers there were no nutcrackers and nativities in the trim-the-tree department which had several doorbuster specials. 

“We do have some holes in our inventory,” Laird said. “Nutcrackers and nativities are not our only thing. There are shortages in everything from clothing to hard lines, but it doesnt seem to be slowing our customers down.”

‘Touch and feel’

Top sellers at Boscov’s are fragrances and furniture, which has been affected by supply slowdowns causing wait times of three to five weeks on sofas ordered today. 

“But people still want to touch and feel,” Laird said. “You can’t buy a pair of shoes online. There’s a lot of back and forth returning online. How do you know how a sweater feels if you can’t touch it?” 

That was true for Lindsey Booth of Maine and Shannon Booth of Prospect. Both said they prefer in-store shopping. Shannon Booth expressed concerns that people have become more careless since the vaccines.  

“I’m a little more nervous this year. There are more people now,” Shannon Booth said.

“But I prefer it because you can touch stuff and feel the quality or functionality without going somewhere to return it,” LIndsey Booth said. I always start shopping on line and then five minutes later I get bored and stop.”

Black Friday sales were off to a strong start, according to early data from Mastercard SpendingPulse. The company measures overall retail sales across all payment types, including cash and check.

Fully two-thirds or 66 percent of holiday shoppers surveyed in early November planned to shop Thanksgiving weekend this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That amounts to an estimated 158.3 million people, up from 156.6 million last year but still below the 165.3 million in pre-pandemic 2019. The survey found 30.6 million planned to shop either in-store or online on Thanksgiving Day, 108 million on Black Friday, 58.1 million on Small Business Saturday, 31.2 million on Sunday and 62.8 million on Cyber Monday. 

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz



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