The mad scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas just got six days shorter.
Black Friday once again kicks off the start of the holiday shopping season. But with six fewer days than last year, it will be the shortest season since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the fourth Thursday in November — the latest possible date it could be. That means customers will have less time to shop and retailers will have less time to woo them.
Adobe Analytics predicts a loss of $1 billion in online revenue from a shortened season. Still, it expects online sales will reach $143.7 billion, up 14.1% from last year's holiday season
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, baked the shorter season into its forecast, but it says the real drivers will be the job market. It forecasts that holiday sales will rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, an increase from the disappointing 2.1% growth seen in the November and December 2018 period that came well short of the group's prediction.
Last year's holiday sales were hurt by turmoil over the White House trade policy with China and a delay in data collection by nearly a month because of a government shutdown. This year's holiday forecast is above the average holiday sales growth of 3.7% over the previous five years.
NRF expects online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 11% and 14%, for the holiday period.
Black Friday is expected to once again be the largest shopping day of the season, followed by the last Saturday before Christmas, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all types of payments including cash and check. Thanksgiving Day isn't even on the top 10 holiday shopping days, according to MasterCard.
The 2019 holiday season will be a good measure of the U.S. economy's health. Many retail CEOs describe their customers has financially healthy, citing moderate wage growth and an unemployment rate hovering near a 50-year low.
"The overall picture is positive," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. "People are spending out of positive cash flow as opposed to borrowing."
Economic growth has moderated since earlier this year, with growth at just 1.9% in the July-September quarter, down from 3.1% in the first three months of the year. Analysts blame at least part of that on the U.S.-China trade war, which has forced many companies to delay plans to invest and expand.
That's left consumers as the main drivers. So far, Americans have kept up their spending, allaying fears of a recession.
With more holiday deals happening earlier to compensate for the late start, many have already started to shop. More than half of consumers have already started their holiday shopping and nearly a quarter of purchases have already been made, according to the annual survey released by the NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics. The survey of 7,917 adult consumers was conducted Oct. 31 through Nov. 6.
"This is further evidence that the holiday season has grown far beyond the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of NRF, in a statement.
How high will they fly?
That's going to be the question of the morning on Thursday for the giant balloons at the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Parade officials and the New York Police Department are keeping an eye on wind gauges along the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) parade route that snakes through Manhattan.
If wind speeds reach dangerous levels, the 16 helium balloons — including Smokey Bear and Snoopy — could be brought down to float at a lower level or taken out of the parade.
The National Weather Service is projecting sustained winds of up to 24 mph (39 kph) with gusts to 40 mph (64 kph) during the parade.
City rules require balloons to be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph (37 kph) and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph).
The parade, one of the city's most popular events, features about 8,000 marchers, two dozen floats, and marching bands, ending with an appearance from Santa Claus.
Among the performers scheduled for this year are actor Billy Porter of "Pose," and singers Celine Dion, Ciara, Kelly Rowland and Idina Menzel.
NYPD Chief of Police Rodney Harrison has the final say on whether the balloons fly, and how high.
The character balloons can go as high as 55 feet (16 meters) off the ground and as low as 10 feet (3 meters).
The rules requiring them to be grounded in high-wind conditions came after wind blew a "Cat in the Hat" balloon into a lamppost near Central Park in 1997, critically injuring a woman.
In 2005, eight years after the "Cat and the Hat" went off course, an M&M's balloon smacked into a lamppost in Times Square, causing cuts and bruises to a woman in a wheelchair and her 11-year-old sister.
In 2017, a gust on an otherwise calm day sent a smaller balloon into a tree branch. That one popped and fell harmlessly onto the crowd.
A New Jersey hospital says a kidney meant for one patient was mistakenly transplanted into another with the same name who was farther down the priority list.
Virtua Health says the Nov. 18 operation on a 51-year-old patient at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden. was successful.
But officials then discovered the patient was given the kidney out of priority order because "unusually, the individual who should have received the organ has the same name and is of similar age."
Virtua Health says the error was reported to state health officials and the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
The patient who should have received the kidney also underwent a successful transplant on Nov. 24.
Officials say steps have been taken to prevent it from happening again.
Amazon has pulled more than a dozen skin-lightening products with dangerous levels of mercury off its website after Minnesota public-health and environmental activists raised concerns.
The company's change came after two groups, the BeautyWell Project and the state branch of the Sierra Club, delivered a petition on Wednesday with over 23,000 signatures to Amazon's fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
"For a large retail company selling toxic products to individuals of color, I think it's so wrong. And these are illegal products," said Amira Adawe, founder of the BeautyWell Project, who has been educating women on the hazards of creams intended to lighten their skin for about eight years.
Amazon spokeswoman Cecilia Fan said sellers who use their site must follow the proper guidelines.
"And those who don't will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available," she said in an emailed statement Friday.
Fan also pointed out the company's policy that bans suppliers from selling hazardous products, including ones containing mercury.
On the same day of delivering the petition, the organizations also took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper demanding that the Seattle-based company stop selling toxic skin-lightening creams. The ad had three words in bold print: "Dangerous, racist, and illegal."
Many such creams remain popular among some communities of color despite containing mercury. Adawe, who has worked on this issue for years locally, is now focused on targeting the retail giants.
She collaborated with the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, in addition to the Mercury Policy Project to examine the skin-lightening creams sold on the Amazon site. Out of the 24 that were tested, 15 showed high levels of mercury.
Such products are not heavily regulated despite having illegal toxins in them, said Mary Blitzer of the local Sierra Club branch.
Adawe said in addition to public health concerns, "it's a racial thing that keeps encouraging that people should change their skin color, and we don't want to see that."
She added that the ultimate test is whether the products remain off Amazon's site for good. As of Thursday evening, all but one of the 15 products appeared to be removed from the site.
Hungary's National Blue Trail has been selected among National Geographic's best dream tourism destinations of 2020, local media reported here on Friday.
National Geographic picked the planet's 25 most exciting destinations for the year ahead, and Hungary's Blue Trail is among them, major Hungarian media Origo Index and HVG reported.
"Despite its lack of soaring peaks (the highest is 3,327-foot Mount Kekes), Hungary is a dream hiking destination thanks to the country's National Blue Trail," National Geographic said on its Travel website.
Meandering about 700 miles from Irottko Mountain, on the western border with Austria, to the northeastern village of Hollohaza near Slovakia, the Blue Trail (Kektura in Hungarian) is a wonderfully diverse web of paths labeled with white-and-blue-striped waymarkers, read the description on the National Geographic website.
"Originating in 1938 and recognized as Europe's first long-distance trail, it's part of the nearly 6,500-mile European long-distance walking route E4, which begins in Spain and ends (with ferry connections) in Cyprus," it added.