PLEASANT HILL (CBS SF) — Nicolas Perry drove into the parking lot of the Pleasant Hill Best Buy store shortly after midnight, fully prepared to spend hours standing in an ever-growing line outside waiting for a 5 a.m. dash inside to take advantage of the Black Friday door-buster deals.

But what he found was a nearly empty lot. This year in the San Francisco Bay Area it appears the door opening mob of shoppers were merely a pre-COVID memory.

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“I got here like at 12 in the morning because I expected a hella people,” he told KPIX 5. “That was my mistake. I had blankets in the car, pillows, I had back waiting for the line to start.”

By the time Best Buy opened its doors, there were only about three dozen people lined up outside.

But for some like Christy Brown, they were ready to get an early start.

“I’m going to wake up at 4 a.m., go shopping. Anything that’s open I’m just going to go shopping,” Brown said on the eve of Black Friday. “I’ve never gone Black Friday shopping so I think it would be really fun to try it out.”

Several factors seemed to be at play — the growing emergence of Cyber Monday online deals during the COVID pandemic and security fears amid a recent wave of retail smash-and-grab robberies.

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While many admit they enjoyed the experience before the pandemic, they say making purchases from home has become routine.

“Window shopping I do, I look for the deals but I don’t pay,” Namrata Hirani said. “Everything is online, being home — just order everything.”

And security concerns were on the minds of others.

“I am kind of scared with what’s going around so I’m not planning to go in person,” said Ginal Shah. “It’s not the same anymore.”

Experts say U.S. retail sales, excluding auto and gas, from this past Monday through Sunday are expected to increase 10% from last year and 12% from the 2019 holiday season, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures overall retail sales across all payment types. Sales on Black Friday are expected to surge 20% from a year ago as store traffic comes back.

Online shopping remains huge, and sales online are expected to rise 7% for the week after the massive 46% gain a year ago, when many shoppers stayed home, according to Mastercard. For the overall holiday season, online sales should increase 10% from a year ago, compared with a 33% increase last year, according to Adobe Digital Economy Index.

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For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, predicts that sales will increase between 8.5% and 10.5%. Holiday sales increased about 8% in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.