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Retailers are betting more Black Friday shoppers will show up at their physical stores this year as pandemic restrictions ease and more Americans get the jab.

It’s not a big benchmark to beat compared to last year’s more downtrodden holiday season.

Shoppers’ visits to brick-and-mortar retailers plummeted 52% on Black Friday last year – the pre-vaccination period – compared to the same shopping event in pre-COVID 2019, according to data from Sensormatic Solutions.

Online sales, meantime, reached a record $9 billion last year, up 21.6% over 2019, according to Adobe Analytics, driven by the dramatic shift to digital commerce since the onset of the pandemic. 

It was the second-largest online spending day in American history, right behind last year’s Cyber Monday.

While supply chain setbacks could mean fewer products to purchase this year – and rising costs due to surging inflation have some shoppers minding their budgets – this holiday shopping season is expected to be better than last for most retailers.

“We’re expecting another record-breaking holiday season this year and Thanksgiving weekend will play a major role as it always has,” National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said in a recent release.

The federation released a survey, done by Prosper Insights & Analytics, showing two-thirds of holiday shoppers plan to shop Thanksgiving weekend this year – or about 158.3 million people, up from 156.6 million last year. 

That’s still below the 165.3 million shoppers in 2019. The survey also showed about 108 million Americans are expected to shop on this Black Friday alone.

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Black Friday offers better in-store deals, notes Fit Small Business, including gift-with-purchase sales that are popular with shoppers looking for an extra present for themselves or someone else on their holiday list.

And while better deals can often be found online without the lineups, many shoppers are itching to get back to physical stores after months of pandemic restrictions. 

A 2019 Deloitte study shows nearly a third of consumers prefer to shop in-store on Black Friday because of the overall excitement it offers, while nearly half described it as a family ritual.

“Logging onto a website and clicking around is just not nearly as engaging,” a recent Harvard Business Review article notes, adding that online shopping is also a missed sales opportunity for many retailers. 

The authors cite a report showing 71% of buyers spent more than $50 in a single physical-store visit, as compared to 54% for online shopping.

While some retailers may be short on inventory given the supply chain shocks, companies like Walmart and Target are feeling confident heading into the critical holiday season.

“We're pleased with our position as we go into Thanksgiving,” John Furner, president of Walmart U.S. said during a recent earnings call. “I've been out in stores around the country, and our feature mix looks much better than a year ago. We definitely have a holiday feel.”

Target CEO Brian Cornell told investors recently that his chain is seeing “continued momentum in the marketplace,” both in-store and across its digital channels. 

“And we think that's going to continue throughout the holiday season,” he said, including “robust gifting throughout the season.”