Shoppers work their way through the sale signs on the Black Friday hunt for toys at Toys R Us in Vienna, Virginia on Nov. 28.CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary)
Craig Giammona and Matt Townsend (c) 2014, Bloomberg News.
NEW YORK — Holiday shopping kicked off earlier than ever this year, leaving some customers who didn’t want to skip out on their Thanksgiving celebrations without the bargains they were seeking. Musician Andre Marshall, 32, of Brooklyn arrived at a local Best Buy store at 6 a.m. Friday and waited two hours in the cold in hopes of scoring a 50-inch Panasonic television for $200. The while-supplies-last deal had run out by the time he arrived, so he settled for a 40-inch Insignia TV for $200 instead. “Now you can’t even spend Thanksgiving with your family because you have to come down on Thursday and get the stuff,” Marshall said. “It’s not Black Friday anymore, it’s Black Thursday Night.” Marshall was one of the 140 million Americans that the National Retail Federation expected to hit the stores or shop online Thursday through Sunday. The shopping rush kicks off a holiday season that the NRF forecasts will be the best in three years, helped by falling unemployment, rising wages and lower gas prices. Shoppers seeking bargains Thursday had plenty of options. J.C. Penney unlocked its doors at 5 p.m., compared with 8 p.m. in 2013. Macy’s and Target opened at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. “Being first is incredibly important,” said Pat Dermody, president of Retale, a mobile application that aggregates circulars from major retailers. “If you’re first, you’ve got customers who are full of spirit and full of cash.” Many consumers already may have begun shopping as retailers experimented with spreading their deals throughout the week. Express Inc. began offering 50 percent off everything starting Nov. 25 through noon Friday, and Target rolled out pre-Black Friday deals of up to 60 percent off on some items. Wal-Mart Stores is meting out its holiday bargains over the course of five days. The retailer’s “New Black Friday” event includes sales in stores and on Walmart.com that began at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and run through Cyber Monday. “They took what was a small, compressed event and made a week out of it,” Rod Sides, who tracks retail for consulting firm Deloitte LLP in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in an interview. “Everybody used to have a battle strategy. Folks are not as focused on Black Friday as they once were.” Wal-Mart said Friday that tablets, televisions, sheets, children’s apparel and video-game gear were the top five categories for sales in its stores Thursday night. Disney Frozen Snow Glow Elsa dolls were among the top toys of the night, Laura Phillips, senior vice president of merchandising for Wal-Mart U.S., said in a statement. Target said the top-selling items in its stores were electronics and housewares, including Keurig K40 coffee brewers, Element 40-inch TVs, Microsoft Xbox One game consoles and Apple iPads. Macy’s Chief Executive Officer Terry Lundgren said Friday in an interview on Bloomberg Television that activewear and outerwear have been the big sellers for the department-store chain so far. “This is an outerwear season for the cold-weather climate stores,” he said. “There was a little snow coming down, and it motivated people to buy more coats.” While about the same number of people as last year were expected to shop Thursday through Sunday, they are projected to spend more, according to the NRF, a Washington-based trade group. Retail sales in November and December may rise 4.1 percent this year, beating last year’s 3.1 percent gain, the organization said. More of those purchases may take place online instead of in brick-and-mortar stores. Shoppers plan to do 44 percent of their gift buying on the Web, the highest percentage ever, the NRF said last month. Thanksgiving Day online sales gained 14 percent from a year earlier, IBM said Friday. Sales already are getting a hand from consumer sentiment that’s the highest since before the recession, boosting confidence that the trend will continue through the holiday season. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, grew at a 2.2 percent annualized rate last quarter, exceeding estimates for a 1.8 percent improvement. The gain was spread across durable and non-durable goods. Consumer spending also may be buoyed by gasoline dropping below $3, a psychological barrier that may help open up wallets, said Bob Drbul, a New York-based retail analyst at Nomura Securities International. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.81 earlier this week, the lowest level in four years, according to the automobile group AAA. To capitalize on the extra spending money, retailers are trying to one-up one another. Wal-Mart will sell an RCA tablet for $29, DVDs for $1.96 and a 50-inch high-definition television for $218. Best Buy, meanwhile, will offer a 55-inch Samsung 4K television for $899, down from $1,400. Not that the discounting frenzy is anything new, said Retale’s Dermody, who’s based in Chicago. “I wouldn’t say, on a category basis, there are discounts that are outrageous this year compared to what they were last year,” she said. Demonstrators protesting the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown showed up en masse at about a half-dozen shops and malls across greater St. Louis, disrupting some early Black Friday shopping. While some of the protests led to brief faceoffs with police, no arrests were made, the St. Louis County Police Department said. Some stores temporarily closed or otherwise had to adjust. Holiday shopping is key for retailers, with sales in November and December accounting for about 19 percent of annual revenue, according to the NRF. The term Black Friday is believed to derive from the myth that retailers didn’t become profitable until this day each year. The doorbuster bargains that are the hallmark of the early part of the shopping season are meant to get consumers into stores in hopes that they’ll buy other merchandise closer to regular price or even just items they hadn’t planned on purchasing. The tactic worked on Jason Marinelli, 38, a contractor from Lodi, New Jersey, who finished dinner Thursday and went to check out the sales at the Paramus Park Mall, where about half of the stores were open. Marinelli said he wants to spend less on gifts this year but doubts that will happen. He bought a $200 North Face jacket for his girlfriend, saving about $50, and bought his daughter two shirts at Justice & Brothers, where items were 50 percent off. “It always ends up being the same or more,” he said. “They get you here with the sales, and next thing you know I’m grabbing things.” — With assistance from Lauren Coleman-Lochner and Lindsey Rupp in New York.