Black Friday was already well underway before many awoke this morning.
The traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season has become a two-day affair, with more stores opening before people put down their turkey legs on Thanksgiving. There’s good reason for the creep; businesses know shoppers will only spend so much, and they want the first crack at those holiday budgets.
Still, millions of Americans are expected to head out in search of steep discounts today. The National Retail Federation forecasts holiday sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion – the biggest jump since 2011.
It’s a make-or-break time for many retailers, which on average get 20 percent of their annual sales during the holiday shopping season. Already, retailers have resorted to steep discounting to lure shoppers.
The Kohls store just west of Metro North Mall was busy and bustling this morning.
Shoppers John and Tracy Cervantes were carrying bags filled with wrapping paper, toys, ornaments and an air mattress for visiting houseguests.
John Cervantes said he works in construction and feels a bit more confident about the economy.
"It's coming back slowly," he said.
The Target store next door was less busy, but some shoppers said they had also been there on Thursday night, when it was packed with people looking for bargains on electronics.
At Ward Parkway Center, there was plenty of parking on the center’s west side nearly an hour after its 8 a.m. opening Friday.
Despite being quiet inside the mall, there were shoppers looking for bargains.
For the family of Mary Beth Denzer of Kansas City, it’s a tradition to get out on Black Friday.
“This is a generational shopping trip that we make every year,” Denzer said. “My two daughters and their daughters come. We get up really early and we go shopping.”
This year was strange because people were shopping on Thanksgiving Day, she said.
“We’re not believers of shopping on Thanksgiving,” she said. “You are supposed to be eating, drinking and being merry, which is what we were doing.”
Here’s a look at what’s happening elsewhere this Black Friday.
Best Buy Site Down
This probably isn’t the best time for technical issues.
Best Buy’s website remained down at 11:15 a.m. eastern Friday after at least an hour, with a message that read, “WE'RE SORRY.” It noted that the site was unavailable and to “Check back soon.”
A spokesman for Best Buy, Jeff Shelman, said in an email that “a concentrated spike in mobile traffic” prompted the company to shut down BestBuy.com so it could restore full performance.
“Our consumers can return to BestBuy.com in the next several hours to take advantage of today’s door busters,” the statement said.
Last week, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly had said he expected competition for shoppers to be “intense.” He forecast flat revenue for the fourth quarter.
At Least The Mall Is Still Open
The Mall of America says it drew 100,000 customers between 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 1 a.m. Friday.
Dan Jasper, a spokesman for the mall in Bloomington, Minnesota, says traffic slowed down after 2 a.m. but has been picking up again as the day progresses. The goal to keep in mind: the 230,000 visitors the mall attracted in the Thursday to Friday period last year.
“We think we can break that record,” Jasper tells The Associated Press.
Biggest Shopping Day of the Year?
Since 2005, Black Friday has held the crown for the top sales day of the year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 70,000 stores globally.
That could change this year. The earlier openings on Thanksgiving are eating into Black Friday sales. As a result, the last Saturday before Christmas may edge out Black Friday as the biggest shopping day of the year.
Still, Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, believes Black Friday and the Saturday before Christmas will be a close tie. He estimates both sales days will be in the $9 billion range.
Over at Macy’s, CEO Terry Lundgren tells The Associated Press he thinks Black Friday will still be the company’s biggest sales day of the year.
Ferguson Protests Hit Stores
Dozens of protesters interrupted Missouri shoppers on Thanksgiving to speak out about a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, a black teenager.
Demonstrations took place at a Target and multiple Wal-Mart stores in the St. Louis area, according to Johnetta Elzie, who tweeted and posted videos of the protests.
Protesters spent a few minutes shouting inside at each store. After police moved them out of one Wal-Mart, protesters chanted, “no justice, no peace, no racist police” and “no more Black Friday.”
There was no immediate word of arrests. More demonstrations are expected Friday.
At Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora, Illinois, the mood was calm Friday morning. Parking spaces were plentiful and lines in many stores short or non-existent. Some groggy shoppers were still in their pajama pants, coffee in hand.
Kimberly States said it was noticeably quieter at the mall than it had been the night before, when she made her first trip to the mall.
“It was a zoo last night around 10 p.m.,” she said. “Now it seems like more of the old folks.”
States and her 11-year-old daughter were shopping mostly for clothes. She planned to return later Friday with her 19-year-old son, who will be shopping for a gift for his girlfriend.
She said she thinks people are feeling more confident about the economy, but she still plans to spend about the same amount on Christmas gifts – or maybe less – compared with last year.
Some Quiet Time
At around 5:30 a.m. Friday, a Target store in the suburb of Mission, Kansas, was mostly empty.
Bridget McNabb, 55, was disappointed when a worker told her the $119 TV she wanted sold out shortly after the store opened the evening before.
In Manchester, Connecticut, a Wal-Mart store was also quiet around 5:30 a.m. A few security guards stood on the sidewalk outside the front doors. And the nearby Shoppes at Buckland Hills had few customers at around 6:30 a.m.
Shopper Rachel Cormier was looking at clothing for one of her four grandchildren. She said the economy isn’t an issue.
“I’m fortunate because my husband and I are both employed,” she said.
U.K. Gets Black Friday, Shoving Included
Black Friday is becoming a tradition in the United Kingdom, too, and businesses there are finding the shopping derby can lead to chaos.
Early Friday morning, police were called to help maintain security at some supermarkets and shopping outlets that offered deep discounts starting at midnight.
“This created situations where we had to deal with crushing, disorder and disputes between customers,” said Peter Fahy, police chief for greater Manchester.
Greater Manchester Police said there were two arrests as police closed some stores to prevent more severe problems. One woman was injured by a falling television set.
Online retailer Amazon is believed to have introduced the concept of Black Friday to the U.K. four years ago, with more businesses joining every year since.
Back in the U.S., businesses are taking steps to keep crowds under control. Such efforts were stepped up after 2008, when a Wal-Mart worker died after a stampede of shoppers.
Best Buy, for instance, has a ticketing and line process to ensure an orderly entrance into its stores. The company also says stores held training sessions to prep for this weekend’s rush.
At Target, deals are spread throughout stores and signs direct shoppers to hot items. And the company says every store has a crowd-management captain for inside and outside the store.
That doesn’t mean everyone remembers their manners.
Wendy Iscra noted it got a little competitive at Wal-Mart in a Chicago suburb where she where she was shopping on Thanksgiving.
“People were shoving each other in there,” the 40-year-old said.
Black Friday is also one of the biggest days of the year for gun sales.
That puts pressure on the system for background checks. Researchers with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is overseen by the FBI, have until the end of the third business day following an attempted firearm purchase to determine whether a buyer is eligible. After that, buyers have the right to get their guns even if the check wasn’t completed.
Last year, the clock ran out more than 186,000 times.
The problem is the records submitted by states, which aren’t always updated to reflect restraining orders or other reasons to deny a sale.
NICS did about 58,000 checks on a typical day last year. The figure surged to 145,000 on Black Friday.
It May Be Too Late
Those waking early for some Black Friday shopping may have missed the boat.
It turns out the hottest deals of the season may be on Thanksgiving, according to an analysis of sales data and store circulars by two research firms.
This year, Target, Macy’s and Kohl’s opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Others started dishing out deals even earlier. Amazon.com and Best Buy started introducing Black Friday deals last week. On Wednesday, Target also gave early access to some of the specials reserved for the holiday shopping kickoff both in stores and online.
Early Bird Special
The National Retail Federation expected 25.6 million shoppers to head to stores on Thanksgiving, which would be slightly down from last year. The numbers aren’t in yet, but there were crowds across the country.
Macy’s said more than 15,000 people were lined up outside its flagship location in New York City’s Herald Square when the doors opened at 6 p.m. Last year, the retailer said there were 15,000 people.
In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store was full about a half hour before deals started at 6 p.m., including $199 iPad minis.
And thousands of people were at Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles, which opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving for a “Moonlight Madness” all-night sale. Hordes of cars inched past rows of palm trees wrapped in red and white lights.
When stores first started opening on Thanksgiving a few years ago, the move was met with resistance by those who thought the holiday should remain sacred.
Some Thanksgiving shoppers still felt a tinge of guilt even as they snagged deals on the holiday. “I think it’s ridiculous stores open on Thanksgiving,” said Reggie Thomas, 44, a director who bought a Sony sound bar for $349, about $100 off, at Best Buy in New York on Thanksgiving.
Cathyliz Lopez, 20, who spent $700 at Target on Thanksgiving, agrees. “It’s ruining the spirit of Thanksgiving,” she said Thursday. “But … the best deals were today.”
A Visit From the Boss at Target
Target CEO Brian Cornell was at a store in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood for its opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Cornell, who became chief executive in August, said the kickoff to the season is off to a good start based on early reads around the country.
“The baskets are full,” he said as he watched shoppers filling their carts with TVs, clothing and toys. He noted people were buying more than just deals.
Cornell told The Associated Press he feels encouraged by what he has seen at stores and online. The holiday kickoff has changed, he said. “It’s been more of a week event,” he said.