Pam Stout and Sheri Kerr began their Black Friday at 6 a.m., heading to Fred Meyer for its annual sock sale, and the two shoppers found a vastly different experience with no crowds.
“It’s usually elbow to elbow,” said Kerr.
Stout, who does all her Christmas shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, said this year’s Black Friday was more enjoyable than others because there were virtually no crowds.
“It was way better,” said Stout, holding a bag of scented pinecones from Michaels at the Columbia Crossing shopping center. “Not a lot of lines.”
Plenty of shoppers like Stout and Kerr ventured out into the foggy Black Friday morning. Parking lots at Vancouver Mall and multiple Fred Meyer locations were relatively full but never jam-packed, and most of the county’s big-box retailers did not appear to need to resort to entry queues for most of the morning.
Foot traffic at Vancouver Mall appeared to be heavier than what’s typically been seen during the pandemic, but it was still lower than on previous Black Fridays, or even routine busy shopping days in the pre-pandemic world.
Individual retailers and the mall are restricted to 25 percent of their usual capacity under an enhanced set of statewide COVID-19 restrictions that Gov. Jay Inslee instituted two weeks ago.
Individual mall stores have their own entry queue spaces set up, but on Friday morning, most of them didn’t appear full enough to need them. Only a handful of stores like Bath & Body Works, GameStop, Old Navy and Hot Topic had lines outside — although the lines did get a little longer as foot traffic picked up in the afternoon.
Michaels craft store at the Columbia Crossing shopping center also had a small line, but it was the only line at the shopping area at about 2 p.m.
At Vancouver Mall, Roberto Gonzalez and his business partner Andre Gilbert have run their EYE Clothing Co. store about three years. On previous Black Fridays, the duo has been among the first to open in the early hours of the morning.
The mall didn’t open until 8 a.m. this time around, but Gilbert said the store was still able to make the most of the time available. Business was steady in the morning with regular visits from customers looking for holiday gifts or trying to shop locally, he said. Foot traffic sometimes came close to the store’s occupancy limit but never quite hit it.
“It’s definitely not a slow day, by any means,” he said Friday afternoon, although he added that foot traffic would probably have been higher under normal circumstances.
Leading up to Black Friday, mall general manager Tracy Peters said the mall had never come close to the 30 percent occupancy limit that was in place prior to Inlsee’s latest order, so she didn’t anticipate having to enforce entry queues outside the mall.
That prediction appears to have been borne out — on Friday afternoon, mall marketing manager Bree Sanchez said the mall had not had to restrict entry during the morning.
“This year, at Vancouver Mall, we are spreading out our Black Friday activities, but are still seeing a good turnout,” she wrote in an email. “And if the number of shopping bags we’ve seen today is any indication, it’s going to be a great holiday season for our retailers.”
The slower-traffic trends from Black Friday are reflected in a Nov. 17 study from Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, which found that in-person Black Friday is fading in popularity.
Of the 1,700 Pacific Northwest shoppers polled in the study, 77 percent said they didn’t plan on shopping in-store on Black Friday, and 65 percent of shoppers said they were “over it” — up 10 percentage points from the same study in 2019.
But the study also found that 74 percent of the shoppers said they wished they could go back to how they shopped before the pandemic.
But for some shoppers like Stout and Kerr, the pandemic isn’t going to ruin Black Friday’s tradition of shopping in-person.
“I want to feel and touch them,” Stout said about the gifts she bought on Friday. “I want to know what it is.”