NEW YORK, Nov. 27 (Reuters) — Masked shoppers turned up in smaller numbers at major U.S. retailers including Macy's Inc., Walmart Inc. and Best Buy on Black Friday as early online deals and worry about the spike in COVID-19 cases dulled enthusiasm for trips to the mall.

Retailers overhauled the traditionally busy shopping day that comes the day after Thanksgiving. Walmart opened stores at 5 a.m. on Friday, directing shoppers to turn right upon entering and proceed along main aisles to shop deals before paying at registers surrounded by plastic barriers.

Best Buy opened at 5 a.m., employing workers in can't miss orange vests to serve as traffic cops. Others offered temperature checks and "grab-and-go" merchandise, including toys, bikes and kitchen appliances to discourage lingering in store aisles.

Bill Park, a partner at Deloitte & Touche LP, estimated traffic at the King of Prussia mall outside of Philadelphia was down about 20-30% compared to last year.

“I’m surprised at the traffic. It’s down a little bit but heavier than I thought,” he said but noted shoppers were not loaded down with packages.

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Elsewhere, shoppers with empty carts lined up a socially-distant six feet apart before the Walmart in LaGrange, Kentucky opened, but crowds appeared down overall. Stores selling popular computer game consoles had some of the longest lines as die-hard gamers tried to land Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 5.

Brothers-in-law Gabriel Rojas, 24, and Juan Cabrera, 24, were waiting in line at GameStop in New York's Bronx borough, since 2 a.m. on Friday, hopeful to snatch up a PS5. They were unsuccessful as there were some 20 people ahead of them and the retailer only had two left in stock, they said.

“We're bummed” said Rojas. “But that’s ok.”

Shoppers wait in line eight hours prior to the opening, in hopes of Black Friday savings, at a computer game store in La Grange, Kentucky, on Nov. 26. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
Shoppers wait in line eight hours prior to the opening, in hopes of Black Friday savings, at a computer game store in La Grange, Kentucky, on Nov. 26. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

At Macy's New York flagship, Asuncion Peralta, 77, said she was not afraid to shop because she had COVID-19 antibodies.

"I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time to buy towels and sheets, everything else that I need,” said Peralta. “These prices are not Black Friday prices. I came here two days ago and the deals were better.”

During this pandemic-ridden year, major retailers from Target Corp. to Kohl’s Corp. and Walmart rolled out online winter holiday promotions in October to capture any holiday-related spending as early as possible.

Overall, the National Retail Federation forecasts U.S. holiday retail sales will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019, for a total of $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion. That compares with an average annual increase of 2.5% over the past five years.

On Nov. 19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention deemed "going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving" as a high-risk activity.

Target employee Seth Schaffer, 22, from Lufkin, Texas, said shoppers in his store appeared less concerned about taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Just know if I get COVID, it’s from work,” he said. “Deep east Texas isn’t the type of place where you’ll see everyone respecting mask policies or avoiding close contact.”

More than half of U.S. shoppers expect to shop online on Black Friday, despite 75% of consumers taking advantage of seasonal sales, which started earlier this year, an Adobe Analytics survey predicts.

However, 55% of consumers reported that sales on the Black Friday weekend feel less special due to promotions in the run up to the event, according to Adobe.

Adobe expects Thanksgiving Day to come in below $6 billion in total sales, with Black Friday set to cross $10 billion in sales.

The volume of Black Friday payment transactions in Britain as of 0900 GMT was down 13.2% versus last year, initial data from Barclaycard showed, with retailers of non-essential goods still shut and many in the sector spreading out online discounts throughout the month.

The end of England's second national lockdown on Dec. 2 is predicted to see a surge in transactions, surpassing Black Friday, said Barclaycard, which processes nearly one pound ($1.33) in every three pounds spent in the United Kingdom.

(Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Additional reporting by Richa Naidu in Chicago, James Davey in London and Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Vanessa O'Connell, Louise Heavens and Nick Zieminski)