I visited a Walmart in Rochester, New York at about 9:30 a.m. Friday morning to see if shoppers turned out for Black Friday sales.
I found a surprisingly empty store.
There were plenty of workers and security officers, and they almost seemed to outnumber the shoppers.
A few sections of the store were a bit more crowded, although they didn’t compare to Black Fridays of previous years.
Customers that did show up were mostly gathered around the electronics section of the big box store.
Displays of discounted Switch and Playstation games were almost empty.
For the most part, other sections of the store were fairly empty, even the toy section.
Walmart had dozens of air fryers on shelves, one of the most popular online purchases of Black Friday so far, per Adobe.
The store was also stocked with mini waffle irons, Instant Pots, and other popular appliances.
A few toys did seem to have sold out for the shopping holiday, although the store was fairly unorganized, so it’s difficult to say if those were bought today or just hadn’t been restocked.
LEGOs seemed to be popular, judging by the empty shelves…
…as did Matchbox cars and other car themed toys.
Even with only around half of registers open, there were no long lines for checkout.
I visited a few specialty stores also in the Rochester area to see how they compared to Walmart.
Bath and Body Works was having their annual buy three get three sale, which loyal fans plan for all year.
The small store was completely packed in an otherwise almost empty mall.
Every possible wall space and display was filled with body sprays, candles, hand sanitizers, and other classic Bath and Body Works items.
Though I didn’t see empty shelves, I heard multiple customers find out their favorite scents were already out of stock in the products they were looking for by 10:30 in the morning.
Despite the crowded store, it seemed well-staffed and the line moved quickly and efficiently.
Next up was Ulta, which has a worker at the door keeping track of how many customers were inside so we didn’t run over the 150 person limit.
Ulta was several times the size of Bath and Body Works, but it felt just as crowded.
Shoppers were mostly congregating around the front section of the store, where gift sets and other sale items were on display.
Even with several cashiers the line kept on growing.
My last stop was athleisure brand Lululemon.
The small store was moderately busy, but everyone there seemed to buying multiple items.
From what I could tell, the customers who were there were dedicated fans, trying on many items of clothing and making big purchases.
Based on my Black Friday experience, specialty retailers focused on a specific type of item were much busier than big box store like Walmart.
Big box stores have shifted many of their sales online, so there isn’t as much draw for customers to visit in person on Black Friday, retail analyst Neil Saunders of GlobalData Retail told Insider.
At stores like Lululemon or Ulta, “there seem to be some very good discounts around and they’re limited time,” lending an event-like atmosphere, versus big box stores which spread their deals out over November and December, Saunders said.
Similar scenes seemed to play out across the country.
Clothing stores like Aritzia appeared to have a very good day.
Reporters and analysts around the country pointed to crowds at Lululemon.
Customers packed inside the athleisure store in hopes of discounted leggings and sports bras.
Shoppers didn’t seem to shy away from high-end brands, like Louis Vuitton.
Meanwhile, some Walmarts across the country seemed nearly empty in the early morning hours.
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