Black Friday got off to its earliest start ever as the nation's shoppers put down their turkey and headed straight to the malls.
Stores typically open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving that's named Black Friday because it's traditionally when they turn a profit for the year. In fact, generations of shoppers have made Black Friday rituals of going to bed early after munching on turkey and pumpkin pie so that they can head out to stores early the next day.
But Black Friday openings have crept earlier and earlier over the past few years as stores have experimented with ways to compete with online rivals like Amazon.com that can offer holiday shopping deals at any time and on any day. And this year, crowds gathered across the country as stores such as Target and Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving evening, while retailers from Macy's to Best Buy opened their doors at midnight on Black Friday.
About 11,000 shoppers were in lines wrapped around Macy's flagship store in New York City's Herald Square when it opened. Joan Riedewald, a private aide for the elderly, and her four children ages six to 18, where among them. By the time they showed up at the department store, Riedewalde had already spent about $100 at Toys R Us and planned to spend another $500 at Macy's before heading to Old Navy.
"I only shop for sales," she said.
Retailers are hoping that the earlier openings will help boost sales this holiday season. It is unclear how many shoppers took advantage of the earlier openings. But about 17 percent of shoppers said earlier this month that they planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers. Overall, it's estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to $11.4 billion this year.
The earlier hours are an effort by stores to make shopping as convenient as possible for Americans, who they fear won't spend freely during the two-month holiday season in November and December because of economic uncertainty. Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites that offer cheap prices and the convenience of being able to buy something from smartphones, laptops and tablet computers from just about anywhere.
That's put added pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season, to give consumers a compelling reason to leave their homes. That's becoming more difficult: the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion, or about flat with last year's growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.
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