Black Friday was once a signature celebration of American consumerism. Lately it has lost some of its strength.

It’s true that shoppers looking for deep discounts You can still line up early at Macy’s or Best Buy the day after Thanksgiving, hoping to score a bargain. But for many, the deal has already been done.

Check your inbox: Those emails offering the “best prices of the year” have been arriving for days or weeks as retailers try to cash in on your wallet.

“When you think about Black Friday, the competitive landscape has really shifted to Black Friday deals before Black Friday,” Macy’s CEO Jeffrey Gennette told investors on a recent call while explaining why the company was extending their promotions. “We’re in the middle of it along with our competitors.”

That doesn’t mean that Black Friday has lost all meaning. The days of dozens of customers camping out at big-box retailers or trampling each other in the rush to score cheap televisions may be gone, but Black Friday remains shorthand for the shopping frenzy gripping Americans. at this time every year.

“It’s still a cultural event, but it’s not what it was a few years ago,” said Craig Johnson, founder of retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. “It’s nothing like it used to be.”

The ease of online shopping has also reduced Black Friday crowds, but some consumers still prefer the in-person experience.

At Best Buy in Durham, North Carolina, a few dozen customers lined up outside the store before dawn Friday. Nitish Michael said he and his wife, Smriti, did not want to commit to expensive purchases. Instead, they bought some discounted Nintendo Switch video games for their 14-year-old son, Aarit.

Nandan Namvuri, 31, and Ydalis Guzmán, 27, were looking for a QLED TV at a discount of at least 40 percent. Namvuri said he had found such deals online, but for such an expensive purchase, he wanted to check the pixel resolution himself.

Sydney Hladilek, 21, has been going out with her mother to look for Black Friday deals for more than a decade. This year they were looking for a flat screen TV.

“I personally don’t like shopping online,” Hladilek said. “I prefer to come in person. Plus, it’s a bonding experience.”

Here’s what you need to know about Black Friday shopping.

The term “Black Friday” was coined around the 1960s by Philadelphia police officers. The day after Thanksgiving and before the annual Army-Navy football game on Saturday, tourists poured into the city’s retail businesses and crowds overwhelmed law enforcement.

Retailers embraced the interest, but the original meaning was lost to many people, who came to understand that being in “black” was a reference to the retailers’ profits (compared to red, which means losses).

Over the decades, thanks to retail promotions, it became a fixture on the national calendar, ultimately defined by long lines, unruly crowds and occasional casualties. As stores sought to compete for shoppers, they extended their hours: first until dawn on Friday, then until midnight, then into Thanksgiving night.

That trend, which faced backlash from retail workers, began to reverse a few years ago. Many retailers are now scrambling to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day. (Employees at some Macy’s stores in Washington state used Black Friday to make a statement about their working conditions. More than 400 sales associates went on strike over problems they say they face, including shoplifting and low wages.)

In the last 20 years or so, Black Friday sales have also spread internationally, said Dale Rogers, a business professor at Arizona State University. “It started as a little American thing,” he said. “Now it’s really global.”

Retailers slowly introduced sales earlier and now deals can be found as early as October, said Johnson, the retail consultant.

“If you’re a retailer, you don’t want to capture demand by lowering prices so low that you don’t make money,” he said. “The way most people capture demand is by targeting early demand.”

Consumers spent 5 percent more online in the first 20 days of November than they did in the same period last year, according to Adobe Analytics.

Many retailers say spending at the other end of the holiday shopping calendar, in the days leading up to Christmas, is more important as people rush to get last-minute gifts.

Barnes & Noble, for example, sells more than 20 million books in December alone, and the seven days before Christmas represent 20 times the sales of an average week. In 2022, Christmas Eve and Saturday before Christmas They were the busiest days for dollar storesaccording to Placer.ai, a market research company.

Johnson said his company predicted Black Friday would be the third busiest day for retailers this year, behind Dec. 23 and Dec. 16, the last two Saturdays before Christmas.

Companies have spent much of the past year celebrating a surprisingly resilient consumer who has continued to spend despite inflation and rising interest rates.

But there are signs that that is starting to change. Last quarter, many executives told analysts that buyers had begun to pull back.

The Federal Reserve has rapidly raised interest rates starting in March 2022 in an effort to slow the economy and curb inflation. Although the pace at which prices are rising has slowed significantly, overall price increases are beginning to weigh on consumers, limiting the amount of discretionary income at their disposal.

“Consumers are feeling the weight of multiple economic pressures, and discretionary retail has borne the brunt of this weight for many quarters,” Christina Hennington, Target’s chief growth officer, told analysts on a recent earnings call. .

That doesn’t necessarily mean consumers won’t attend, but they are more likely to take advantage of promotions and less likely to make big purchases like furniture or certain electronics, analysts expect.

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry told analysts on an earnings call Tuesday that the company was “preparing for a very business-focused customer” and expected sales to be concentrated on days like Black Friday. , Cyber ​​​​Monday and the days leading up to it. Christmas.

The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, forecasts that holiday sales will increase 3 to 4 percent from last year, which is in line with pre-pandemic levels but not as high as the two. last years. Holiday sales increased by 5.3 percent in 2022 and 12.7 percent in 2021.

Some stores offered creative deals to get customers in or out the door.

At a Durham store of Swish, a North Carolina-based shoe retailer, customers who lined up before 7 a.m. Friday were entered into a raffle for certain deals.

Gary Johnson, 44, was among 14 customers whose names were drawn. He decided to buy a pair of Yeezy Slides, which sold for $70. The original price was advertised as $200 in-store, although they were available online for around $90. Johnson was aware of the online discounts, but he said he enjoyed the “experience” of waiting outside.

“Just standing in line is a childhood memory,” he said, recalling the times he waited for discounted video games.

At a nearby JC Penney, customers purchased “mystery coupons” valued between $25 and $500 at checkout, starting at 5 a.m. At one Palmetto Moon, a Charleston-based clothing company, eager shoppers camped outside to be among the first 50 people to arrive and receive a $25 gift card to spend at brands like Yeti and Vineyard Vines.

Jordyn Holman contributed reports.