CHAPEL HILL — Anna Wilson despises Black Friday.

However, Wilson, a student at Tulane University, procrastinated in finding a dress for her sorority’s semiformal. With the event being one week away, she had no other choice but to partake in the Black Friday festivities.

A Charlotte resident, she decided to start her shopping trip at her local Free People, one of her favorite stores. The experience, she says, was her worst nightmare.

“The store was packed— there were people in all of the dressing rooms, and the salespeople were all over the place,” she said. “I don’t think I was helped a single time by someone there. This is the first time I can remember I did Black Friday, and I hated it. It was so hectic. Even after I was done at Free People, after one store, I didn’t want to keep shopping.”

Still, Wilson finally found the perfect dress.

“A Black Friday miracle,” she said.

Black Friday, whether you love it or hate it, is an important day for retailers — including those in North Carolina.

Black Friday sales rise across the nation

As of October 2018, consumption made up over two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product. Because retail spending is part of consumption, Black Friday is extremely important to the U.S. economy.

“When we think about the economy and what’s going to drive it forward, consumer spending is one of those things, and Black Friday is a good gauge of what is happening,” said Charlie Dougherty, a vice president and economist with Wells Fargo Securities. “It’s very important indicator, because it’s going to tell us about what is happening within the economy.”

According to a report released by the National Retail Federation, Black Friday marks one of the biggest weekends of the year for retailers, with an estimated 164 million individuals planning to go shopping Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday.

The release found that Black Friday will remain the busiest day of Thanksgiving weekend, with 71 percent, or 166 million, of U.S. shoppers planning to shop during the long holiday weekend.

This is gearing up to a holiday season of spending. Consumers will spend an average of $1,007.24 this holiday season, up from the $961.13 they said they would spend last season.

Holiday shoppers will spread their shopping across multiple channels and types of stores. An equal number or consumers, 55 percent, will shop online and in department stores. On the other hand, 55 percent of customers will go to discount stores, 44 percent to grocery stores, 33 percent to clothing stores and 24 percent to electronics stores.

Online sales continue to rise

“Clearly it is surprising how over the course of a near decade, especially over the last five years, how amazingly and egregiously things have moved to the web,” said economist Dennis Gartman, editor and publisher of The Gartman Letter. “It is astonishing how much is being done on the net, and how much less being done in brick-and-mortar stores. I am stunned by that fact.”

However, the effect of an increase of online retail on the economy is likely negligible.

“This is happening across the country, not just in North Carolina,” he said. “I’m in awe of what’s happening, but what’s the net effect on the economy? Probably not that much. It’s just a transfer of the money from one thing to another, so there isn’t any real impact of this. It’s simply a movement from brick-and-mortar stores to the web. It’s going to continue that way for many years.”

Sales overall are predicted to be at an all-time high

“It would be illogical for it not to be a record-breaking year,” Gartman said. “One, the economy is doing better. Two, the population is larger. Three, incomes are up. It would be stunning for it not to be a record-breaking year.”

Retail sales in November and December, which excludes automobiles, gasoline and restaurant sales, will increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 from $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion. This is larger than the increase of 3.9 percent that was seen over the past five years.

Though this year will pose record sales, Gartman still believes a recession is coming in the near future.

“Record sales should not shock us,” he said. “The only time you aren’t going to get record sales was like in 2008, when the economy was in an egregious recession. Clearly, we are not in a recession right now, but we will eventually be in a recession. When that happens, retail sales will tumble. The economy is doing quite well. Record sales should not surprise anybody.”

If the economy faces a downturn, sales will slow.

“I get a little concerned because my job as an economist is to forecast where things will be in a year from now, and I can’t imagine they will be much better,” he said. “It will probably be slightly worse from now. In fact, next Christmas I think sales will be non-record. But now, it’s tightening, but not tightening aggressively, so it would be illogical to assume sales will be anything but record now.”

National trends to apply to North Carolina

If retailers perform well on Black Friday on a national scale, the same will likely ring true for North Carolina retailers.

“I would be stunned if it is not record breaking in North Carolina as well,” Gartman said. “How could that be? The economy in North Carolina is at least as great as the overall economy is, maybe even slightly better. The population has grown over the past year, and it would be patently illogical, if the national sales will be on the rise, for North Carolina not to see the same.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the October unemployment rate as 3.6 percent, lower than last month’s rate of 3.7 percent by 0.1 percentage point.

In addition to strong employment growth, North Carolina is seeing wage growth. Higher wages typically translate into higher incomes, which translate into higher retail sales.

“The North Carolina economy has done very well recently — it’s one of the fastest-growing states in the country,” Dougherty said. “A lot of that has to do with Charlotte and Raleigh. A lot of that is population growth and wage growth, and their economies have done really well this year. I would not be shocked if Black Friday sales within those regions were shown to see very high amounts of sales.”

However, a High Point University poll found that 31 percent of North Carolinians plan to shop on Black Friday, which is much lower than the national prediction of 71 percent.

Still, this is above last year’s prediction for North Carolina, which said that 22 percent of individuals planned to shop on Black Friday in 2017.

Of the North Carolinians polled by High Point, 59 percent of respondents said they will not shop on Black Friday.

In line with the rise of cyber sales that is impacting the national as a whole, 25 percent of respondents said they will do most of their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, and 35 percent said they will do most of their shopping online. An additional 25 percent said they will do both at equal frequency.

The proportion of online shoppers is slightly less than last year, when 37 percent of respondents pledged to do a majority of their shopping online. However, brick-and-mortar shoppers decreased, as 41 percent of respondents in 2017 said they would shop mostly in brick-and-mortar stores.

The poll found on average that shoppers will spend $944 on holiday-related items, slightly less than the national average of $1,007.24 this holiday season.

The shopping climate

North Carolina ranks as No. 4 on a list of states with the highest risk for Black Friday violence, according to a recent study from Alabama is first on the list.

The study revealed that North Carolinians have the highest chance per capita of being involved in a violent Black Friday crime, and historically the most frequent type of Black Friday violence has been trampling.

To combat this, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police placed additional patrols around major shopping centers.

For consumers willing to brave potentially dangerous situations, there were several deals for them to look forward to.

For example, Charlotte-based retailer Belk pledged to give $1 million in gift cards over Thanksgiving weekend. The first 200 customers in line on Thursday and the first 100 on Friday at each store reviewed gift cards, with one valued at least at $500.

“I went for the deals,” said David Safir, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I think it was worth it. I would really like to buy the things I want for less than the usual costs.”

For Jacy Chapmon, who works at Johnny T-shirt: The Carolina Store in Chapel Hill, her employers worked hard to prepare for Black Friday shoppers. She said the store had a sale that occurred on football jerseys for the whole week.

The deals continued to into Cyber Monday, in which Johnny T-shirt issued a discount of 2o percent.

But, that’s not all Johnny T-Shirt did to prepare. Chapmon says that the store got stock three times last week, once more than it usually does. The store loaded up on items that her boss predicted would sell best.

“It’s usually busy on Black Friday,” she said. “It’s a lot of families, and families spend more. We tried to staff the calendar better than the usual Friday. I help with scheduling, so I made sure we had enough people to work that day. When we are busier we have more people on the floor. Since people ask questions, we want to be able to check them out faster.”

“We made more money than we usually do.”

This story is from the North Carolina Business News Wire, a service of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism