As consumer habits continue to change, Black Friday remains a staple for sales and early morning shopping

Shoppers searching for deals hit the shops early this morning for another year of Black Friday sales, even as the consumer holiday continues to change as more consider their options.

Experts say they are not expecting the same crowds seen in years past, as more opt for buying gifts online or simply take advantage of sales offered earlier in the week or days ahead. Still, as was the case at North Shore Mall Friday morning, many still headed out with plans to shop smart as retailers offer up big savings.

“Oh, I shopped online too – this is just fun,” said Ryan Lomasney as she and other arrived at the North Shore Mall Friday morning. “It used to be more fun when you could wait in line in the middle of the night, but you don’t do that anymore.”

“”I think it’s great – it’s almost like an extension of Thanksgiving for some people,” said Lauren Dalis, the director of marketing for Simon Property Group, which owns the mall. “It’s just kind of an all-encompassing experience on Black Friday, which is really sweet to see.”

Deal-hunters were on the prowl, looking for pop-up sales and other deals, even as some stores continue to cut prices earlier in the holiday season.

“We saw the sales earlier than ever this year,” said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst with WalletHub.

“(On) Black Friday, we have six days of deals that run right through the week and Thursday and Friday, we are offering flash deals for customers, as well,” said Joseph Bisalti, a North Shore Kohl’s Manager .

On top of that, there are the shoppers who are opting to shop small. BankRate.com recently found nearly 60% of Americans plan to get gifts on Small Business Saturday, more than the number of people expected to shop on Black Friday.

It’s a trend some experts credit younger generations with bolstering.

“Gen Z is actually a big part of that,” said Kathy Korman Frey of George Washington University School of Business. “There is a statistic that about 67% of TikTok users are buying items from small businesses.”

It’s a trend the City of Boston is hoping will boost business, where Mayor Michelle Wu previously launched the “Meet Me in the City” initiative to encourage people to shop local during the holiday season.

Regardless, many big box stores are still offering deals anywhere from 30-60% off, though, if you are looking for sweet savings on electronics, you might not have much luck.

“There are certainly deals to be had in those categories, but a lot of them tend to be doorbusters,” Gonzalez said. “Stores have very limited quantities of very sought-after merchandise to really lure people to get in the stores, and have this kind of groupthink to buy more than they would online.”

While shopping, experts are also reminding people to request price matches when possible, getting the most bang for their buck.

“Most stores are going to want to price match immediately: they don’t want to lose your business, especially this year,” Gonzalez added.

And more good news: the Better Business Bureau found retailers are dealing with 21% more inventory than last year, which may translate to bigger savings.

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