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Thanksgiving weekend shopping trends: How the internet and supply chain are shaking things up

For most people, the shopping season has already begun.

CLEVELAND — Thanksgiving weekend shopping may look a bit different this year, as lots of big retailers are opting to stay closed on the actual holiday.

Many made the switch during the pandemic last year and are sticking to it. Instead of fighting labor constraints so many retailers are facing, they're focusing where so much of the shopping is being done anyway: online.

Places like Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Kohls are all closed Thursday, as well as most of our grocery stores, but for most people, the shopping season has already begun.

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The National Retail Federation saying 61% of shoppers have already started checking their lists. This weekend, it shifts into high gear.

This weekend is huge," Cleveland native Taylor Schreiner, who studies the trends as director of Adobe Digital Insights, said. "This weekend, people are going to buy tens of billions of dollars of stuff online. It is amazing.

"Black Friday used to be an in-person shopping day. Now it's an e-commerce day. That's going to hit almost $10 billion in sales. It's enormous. The only thing that's different this year is that people are not only buying gifts, but they're buying everything else in their lives, in the e-commerce world from furniture to groceries, to garden implements."

Schreiner adds one in every $4 will be spent online, but with inflation hitting everything, expect to find higher prices and shallower discounts this year.

"Consumers have to trade off two things: Are they going to get the item they want and are they willing to pay the price that that's out there?" he explained. "Definitely, people are running into more items being out of stock."

Retail giants like Target, Costco and Walmart chartered their own ships to bypass supply chain issues — and be sure their shelves are stocked. Walmart's CEO John Furner told NBC News exclusively, "Our inventory was up over 11% at the end of the quarter."

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The early birds may be rewarded when Walmart opens at 5 a.m. Black Friday, along with Best Buy, Kohls, Old Navy and Dick's Sporting Goods. Home Depot and Lowe's open at 6; Target and T.J. Maxx at 7.

If you're going to be shopping online anyway — as so many are — Black Friday or Cyber Monday? That's a big question. Adobe finds it really depends on the item and the retailers, so do some research. Some deals will start tomorrow night or Friday and continue through the weekend. Others will change — Monday has a slight advantage, particularly on big-ticket TVs.

Kristin McGrath, RetailMeNot editor and shopping expert, says the best things to buy on Black Friday are small kitchen appliances, home goods and computers, laptops and tablets.

"Rest assured, they'll be at some of the lowest prices of the year on Black Friday," she said. "So feel good about adding them to your cart, checking out quickly and then relaxing the rest of Thanksgiving weekend.

"If you’re in need of a new laptop, desktop, gaming PC or tablet, Black Friday is the time to upgrade. Apple products will be on sale at retailers like Best Buy (don't bother with Apple.com itself, though). Plus, Dell, Lenovo and HP will all be dropping online doorbusters the entire weekend. These electronics sale events can be tough to navigate, so check out their Black Friday ads in advance to see what's dropping and when."

Schreiner says this year, when you find what you're looking for and need it on time, don't wait.

"Once you get past Cyber Monday, shipping costs are going to start to go up and your ability to get things into people's hands are going to get harder," he noted. "So buy the things you need sooner rather than later, and if you're a gift receiver, be forgiving. If you get a gift card, just remember: It's been a hard shopping season for everybody."

Schreiner also says Adobe does expect to see some great deals late in the month and into January, when all those ships arrive.

"Cargo containers of items that were meant to show up earlier show up a little later, and retailers have to get them off their shelves," he added. "They're going to be some great deals there."

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