A MARTINEZ, HOST:
It is Black Friday. And if you're wondering if this year, we're shopping more than ever before, you are correct. The holiday shopping season is expected to set a new record, despite all the shipping problems, hiring struggles and, of course, the ongoing pandemic. NPR's business correspondent Alina Selyukh is here to tell us more. And I'm very happy to be joining the annual tradition of asking you the same question - is Black Friday still a thing? So is it still a thing?
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: It depends on what you mean by that. If you mean people lining up in tents outside of a local Best Buy at dawn, maybe not so much. People shopping like crazy is definitely still a thing. The National Retail Federation says Black Friday is still the day when the most number of people shop, even more than on Cyber Monday. Although, of course, both of them are huge for online shopping.
But let's be real - Black Friday sales have been going on for months. What is it - October, September, maybe this summer. I talked to Katerina Grant (ph) from Maryland, who says she bought almost all her gifts on summer sales - Legos for her 7-year-old son and Barbie toys for her 4-year-old daughter.
KATERINA GRANT: We bought the huge Barbie Dream House. The price is more expensive now than when I got it at Costco randomly in, I think, maybe August. So I don't know. The price is more expensive or the same by, like, 20 bucks.
SELYUKH: She shopped early, and she has no regrets.
MARTINEZ: No, why would - I want to keep my sneaker shelf fresh, so why not? So how good are the deals this year?
SELYUKH: I mean, they are there. Adobe tracks online shopping. And that group says it's been roughly 20% off toys, 15% off clothes, 13% off computers. They are predicting best deals today on furniture, tools and home goods and a bit better deals on electronics and appliances tomorrow on Saturday and then TVs on Cyber Monday.
But overall, this year's holiday discounts indeed are not expected to be as good as maybe we've seen in years past - sort of what Grant noticed. You mentioned the shipping mess, the hiring issues. Both of those are costing retailers a pretty penny, billions of dollars. So this year, they're not really willing and able to offer those super generous blowout sales like we might have seen in the past.
MARTINEZ: And then on top of that, inflation has kicked in at the highest level since 1990 as of last month. So why aren't higher prices maybe deterring holiday shoppers?
SELYUKH: This is a peculiar thing. In surveys, people say they're really worried about inflation. So-called consumer sentiment is actually at a decade low. But then people also keep buying stuff, you know, paying those higher prices. Spending and sentiment, sort of how we feel and what we actually do - normally, they go hand in hand, in sync, but not this year.
Adobe says on Thanksgiving Day, just online, shoppers were spending $3 1/2 million a minute, a minute. So as far as inflation worries, maybe people are more worried about the future rather than the now. And it's also worth pointing out some of the biggest price jumps have been for food and gas, which are not really the kind of thing you buy as a holiday gift.
MARTINEZ: And how will people know that I love them unless I spend on them? I mean, that's the whole point, right? Now - OK, so...
SELYUKH: And how would you put gas in a stocking...
MARTINEZ: Right, impossible.
SELYUKH: ...I suppose?
MARTINEZ: It smells. Now, when we talk about record shopping, are we spending more simply because just things are more expensive?
SELYUKH: No. I mean, it's definitely part of it. But economists I've talked to say we are looking at a record, even if all the numbers were adjusted for inflation. It's really hard to overstate just how much shopping people have been doing all year long. That's kind of at the heart of most of the challenges we've been hearing about this year - the logjams in ports, the overwhelmed warehouses, overrun trucks, the shipping delays. As early as the spring, we were buying so much that it was like holiday shopping levels of stuff. And that's because all that sitting at home last year plus federal aid gave people lots of cash. Here's economist Tim Quinlan from Wells Fargo.
TIM QUINLAN: Think of the vacations that have been canceled, the weddings that have been put off, the kids that didn't go to camp. And that leads to this excess savings that's kind of found its way into mostly goods spending.
SELYUKH: And that's how we're looking at a holiday gift buying season of $850 billion. That's possibly as much as 10% more than last year, which already was the biggest year of all. So at this point, even the Grinch couldn't stop 2021 from becoming a massive, record-breaking shopping year.
MARTINEZ: Yeah, not a chance. That's NPR's business correspondent Alina Selyukh. Thanks a lot.
SELYUKH: Thank you.
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