OWATONNA — For many people, waking up early to go shopping on Black Friday is simply a part of their family Thanksgiving tradition.

However, a rapidly growing number of people are choosing to stay home and get their holiday shopping done online, impacting what was once a mad rush at brick-and-mortar retail stores for their annual day-after-Thanksgiving doorbuster deals. In Owatonna, local retail associates have been watching their numbers steadily drop for those who come out in the early part of the morning.

“The line is definitely smaller this year, but that’s just the way it goes these days,” said Christine Behne, a Cabela’s CLUB MasterCard Outfitter who has been working the last seven Black Fridays in Owatonna. “It’s the change in times.”

Roughly 100 people lined up outside of the outdoor outfitter, anticipating Cabela’s 5 a.m. opening that kicked off their six-hour sale. Behne said that the line of shoppers has become gradually smaller throughout the years, but she still recalls the days where people came out by the thousands.

“When I first started there was a line around the building all the way back to the boat docks,” Behne laughed. “But it’s just the change in times. Everybody is looking for those online deals with Cyber Monday and we had quite a few people who came in [on Thanksgiving] and got their shopping done then.”

For decades, Black Friday has signaled the official start of the holiday shopping season as a day of unbelievably deep discounts that drew hordes of shoppers into stores. Retails saved their best deals for the day after Thanksgiving, and consumers responded by turning overnight camp-outs and long lines into an American rite of passage. That is not so much the case anymore, as Behne noted that there is a clear lack of people who camp outside the store overnight to assure a good place in line. Aside from a handful of teenage boys who set up two tents outside Cabela’s at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, solidifying the first few places in line, Behne stated that she wasn’t sure if any of the other shoppers had been in line too long prior to opening the doors.

In general, the day has morphed into a months-long discount fest as retailers push the season’s boundaries to get shoppers to open their wallets. Walmart began this year’s holiday sale on Oct. 25, a full five weeks before Thanksgiving. Target followed two weeks later with a day of “real” Black Friday deals including $200 markdowns on the iPhone 11 and half-off air fryers.

The holiday shopping season — from Thanksgiving to Christmas — is also six days shorter than it was last year. This will be the shortest season since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the fourth Thursday in November – the latest possible date it could be.

Despite the shorter season, the National Retail Federation still forecasts an increase in sales of up to 4.2% compared to 2018 for a total estimate of $730 billion in retail sales. Throughout the course of the holiday weekend, 39.6 million consumers were expected to shop on Thanksgiving Day, 114.6 million on Black Friday, 66.6 million on Small Business Saturday, and 33.3 million on Sunday. The shopping weekend will wrap up on Cyber Monday, when 68.7 million are expected to take advantage of online bargains.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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