AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's Black Friday, the day when millions of Americans walk off their turkey dinners at the local mall. This year, people are doing that again and in droves. The holiday shopping season is expected to deliver record-setting sales, and this weekend is primetime. NPR's Alina Selyukh is at The Mall at Prince George's in Hyattsville, Md. And, Alina, someone was going to get sent to the mall today. Sorry it has to be you.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: (Laughter).
CORNISH: But what are you seeing?
SELYUKH: And, well, there are - at the moment, there's a child crying, so you can tell it's a mall at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
CORNISH: That's fair (ph).
SELYUKH: Been a long day. It's been a long day. It's really buzzing. I found the quietest corner, and yet here I am. There's definitely a steady stream of little children lining up for pictures with Santa, if that tells you anything. Last year, that involved a plexiglass shield. This year, it's, you know, all masks off and smiles for the camera. Security is circling around, reminding folks to wear masks. And for many people, this is their first Black Friday in-person since before the pandemic began. Stephanie Holland (ph) came to the mall for some pajamas and jewelry gifts.
STEPHANIE HOLLAND: Well, last year, because of COVID, I stayed put. I did everything online. But this year, you know, I feel a little safer. I just had a moment of needing instant gratification, so I wanted to come out here and see if I could get some of the things I'm ordering online in person.
SELYUKH: She is still also shopping online. Salesforce is one group that tracks online spending, and they found that as of noon today Eastern, almost $6 billion was spent by shoppers online.
CORNISH: What are they buying?
SELYUKH: It's a lot of familiar stuff - toys, electronics. Here, I talked to one guy who was rushing off to buy a TV - or classic Black Friday activity, I suppose. One thing is clothes and shoes are back. People are walking out with boots and coats. Clothing stores are buzzing, hopping. Even department stores are hopping, especially discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's. Outside Ross, I talked with Prince Kargbou (ph), who is originally from Sierra Leone and is planning to travel home for the first time since before the pandemic. He says on actual Christmas Eve, like Santa that he is. So he's stocking up on bags and bags of gifts to take back home, and that's a drastic change from last year.
PRINCE KARGBOU: I've been doing the shopping for quite a while. It's not a day's job. And today, I'm able to get a number of jean pants and clothes. And I believe that will be a very good gift for someone back home.
SELYUKH: And he's not alone in planning on trips. Here, I noticed a surprising number of people rolling out - literally rolling out - with brand-new suitcases.
CORNISH: Any issues with inventory? Are the shelves any emptier this year?
SELYUKH: I didn't notice anything like that. We do know that because sales have been going on for months, some stuff has been - indeed been out of stock online, some specific toys, specific electronics and furniture. But stores did prepare. Adobe tracks online transactions, and they found that stores are being sort of smart about routing shoppers today towards stuff that is in stock.
CORNISH: Has anyone mentioned - and I know this is weird - but inflation - right? - or just prices being high?
SELYUKH: Prices being high is definitely something people talk about being really worried about. We've seen that a lot in surveys. I expected a lot more people to bring that up here today, but I feel like it's a lot of the things that people discuss about sort of in the future rather than in the now. Instead, people just said they had more money from not going out and doing stuff last year. They were having bigger gatherings. Therefore, they needed more gifts. So people say they're worried about higher prices, but they're still buying stuff. The National Retail Federation forecasts that this year, we might spend as much as $850 billion in shopping in November and December, which would be more than 10 or up to 10% more than last year. And mind you, last year was already a previous record.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh in Hyattsville, Md. Thank you.
SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.