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Black Friday shoppers are expected to spend more money due to inflation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's Black Friday. Welcome to holiday shopping in the year of high inflation. Retailers are gearing up for another record year of spending, and higher prices have a lot to do with that. NPR's Alina Selyukh spent the day talking with shoppers in Hyattsville, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. And, Alina, I know you go to the shopping mall every year 'cause it's usually bustling. What are the crowds like today?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, today was a bit quieter than normal. There were definitely more elves than kids around the photos with Santa spot for a little while. And, you know, this is reflective of how our shopping craze has cooled from last year. This place was kind of wild last November - you know, lots of masks and plexiglass, but still totally nuts. Today, people were out shopping. They were buying a lot of clothes and shoes particularly and definitely hunting for sales because some are scaling back their holiday budgets this year.

SHAPIRO: And what did they tell you? I mean, the shoppers, not the elves.

SELYUKH: (Laughter) Right. So the shoppers talked a lot about thinking about the economy and the inflation. I talked to Manuel Rojas, who was shopping for some dolls at T.J. Maxx, which is a discount retailer.

MANUEL ROJAS: We are trying to buy the same last year but cheaper prices.

SELYUKH: On sale.

ROJAS: Yeah.

SELYUKH: So he said the dolls that he was trying to buy seemed pricier than last year. He wanted to find them on discount, though he was open to the possibility of buying full price if the doll he found he liked and there was no other choice.

SHAPIRO: Well, apart from the hunt for dolls, did other shoppers tell you that inflation was changing their holiday shopping plans?

SELYUKH: It was overall kind of a mixed bag. Everyone said the higher prices were hitting their budgets, but many people were also not ready to cut back on their holiday shopping. One woman, for example, said she was being more careful at the grocery store because of surging prices but was still planning to give her relatives gift cards the same as last year. We've heard some retailers talk about shoppers, you know, buying fewer things that aren't necessities because of higher food and gas prices. But for example, I spoke with Gail Reed, who says she's not done any such thing. In her case, she says she's just making sure that whatever she does buy, she will absolutely use. And today, she bought pants, some slippers and a travel bag.

GAIL REED: I know for me, when I get home, these pants will be going on my butt in about two weeks. I know this weekender bag will be used 'cause I'm going to Las Vegas in March. And my slippers will be used 'cause I work from home.

SELYUKH: She also said she's not really a one-day shopper, one-weekend shopper - shopping kind of all through the months, which is definitely how most shoppers are now. And actually, this year, holiday discounts started even earlier than usual, back in October. For example, Old Navy launched this campaign called #sorrynotsorry - like, sorry it's Christmas stuff in October. Holidays are whenever you want them to be.

SHAPIRO: So it sounds like, at least based on your unscientific sampling...

SELYUKH: Extremely.

SHAPIRO: ...Inflation is not the Grinch that stole Black Friday.

SELYUKH: Yeah. Well, you know, people don't seem to be scaling back that much. According to the National Retail Federation, a bit more scientific, we know that an average shopper says that they're planning to spend more than $800 on gifts, cards, decorations, other holiday purchases. But there is a big shift between folks with lower and higher incomes. Families with high incomes are actually budgeting more for holiday stuff, while folks with middle to lower incomes say they plan to cut back. And people definitely worry about inflation a lot. They think about it. The same retail trade group has been asking shoppers about the US economy affecting their spending plans for the holidays. And this year, the number of shoppers who say the economy is affecting their holiday plans reached 60%, the highest since the Great Recession.

SHAPIRO: Well, are there any places people are likely to find good deals this holiday shopping season?

SELYUKH: It's the ultimate question on Black Friday, isn't it? I've been checking in with Adobe. They track online prices. And they're saying prices have been declining for toys, TVs, sports equipment, clothes and especially computers - not, like, 50% off, but, like, 10 to 15% off and kind of across all the main holiday purchases.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Alina Selyukh in suburban Maryland. Thanks a lot.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.