The biggest shopping day of the year has begun, as stores began to open their doors as early as 8 p.m. on the evening of Thanksgiving in an effort give customers as much time as possible to get their hands on Black Friday deals.
And shoppers wasted no time tearing themselves away from their families to take advantage of the sales, with stores such as Walmart, Target and Sears packed with desperate bargain-hunters.
While initial accounts indicated that the crowds were largely peaceful, avoiding the riots seen in previous years, many stores had an unusually heavy police presence, and there were some reports of scuffles between customers in packed-out shopping aisles.
And amid the shopping frenzy, two customers – a husband and a wife – were hit by a car in the parking lot of a Walmart on the edge of Seattle on Thursday evening, with the wife being airlifted to hospital after the accident which saw her pinned under the vehicle.
Stores from Target to Toys R Us opened their doors on Thanksgiving evening, hoping Americans will be willing to shop soon after they finish their pumpkin pie.
Target opened its doors at 9 p.m. on the holiday, three hours earlier than last year. Sears, which didn’t open on Thanksgiving last year, opened at 8 p.m. on Thursday through 10 p.m. on Black Friday.
Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. And others such as Macy’s are opening at midnight on Black Friday.
When Macy’s flagship Herald Square store in New York opened its doors at midnight, about 11,000 shoppers showed up.
Overall, about 17% of shoppers plan to take advantage of Thanksgiving hours, according to a International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers.
Shoppers queued up at Toys R Us in New York’s Times Square on Thursday evening
Retailers are trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores by making shopping as easy as possible.
In addition to expanding their hours into Thanksgiving, many are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.
“Every retailer wants to beat everyone else,” said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, a research firm based in Charleston, S.C. “Shoppers love it”.
Indeed, there were 11 shoppers in a four-tent encampment outside a Best Buy store near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The purpose of their wait? A $179 40-inch Toshiba LCD television is worth missing Thanksgiving dinner at home.
With 41million people expected to shop on what has been dubbed “Gray Thursday”, police have responded to fights and threats between bargain-hungry customers, some of whom have camped outside stores for days.
The spats add to the discontent surrounding the stores, with employees frustrated about working on Thanksgiving, and Walmart workers threatening to protest over their pay, schedules and benefits.
Outside a Kmart in Indianapolis, which opened at 6 a.m. on Thursday, officers responded to a brawl between shoppers as some attempted to sell vouchers the store had handed out for limited items.
“Everybody started going crazy about it, and then the cops got called in and it just became a madhouse,” one shopper told News 8.
And at a Kmart on Stockton Boulevard in South Sacremento, one shopper threatened to stab people while waiting in line for K-Mart’s doors to open and told people he “wasn’t joking”.
Police arrived at the scene shortly after the threat – made after shop staff came outside to hand out “doorbuster deal” vouchers to the first in the line – to help control the crowds.
In a bid to minimize trouble, the Los Angeles Police Department deployed helicopters over some malls, while a cavalry of police officers on bikes and horses monitored from streets below.
According to the L.A. Times, others scoured crowds from rooftops and signs warned shoppers against becoming victims of theft.
It comes after a series of previous Black Friday incidents; at a Wal-Mart in the city last year, scores of people were injured when a woman pepper sprayed her competition in a bid for discounted video games. Two years ago, gunfire broke out at a Toys R Us, killing two people.
“For some people, shopping is a competitive sport,” LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith told the paper.
“But it should not be a contact sport.”
Officers are also working with stores to keep violent outbursts under control, and Best Buy even participated in training drills to handle the large crowds.
The Walmart where the pepper spray incident occurred will hand out vouchers for some items to avoid a scramble. If customers do not get a voucher for the item, they should expect there will be none left, management told the Times.
Black Friday is a day of huge sales at many chain stores. Consumers can get especially good deals on electronics, appliances, and sometimes even cars. Clothes, too, are often steeply discounted.
10 Tips for Smart Black Friday Shopping
Try to get Friday off work. Thanksgiving Thursday is a federal holiday, and public and private schools are closed on Friday. Still, many people including healthcare providers, retail sales clerks and restaurant workers will have to report into work on the day after Thanksgiving. So if you’re hoping to get big bargains on Black Friday this year, arrange beforehand to get that day off work. Note: In 2011, some retailers started Black Friday on Thanksgiving evening. In 2012, some started the week before Thanksgiving.
Avoid impulse purchases. The best way to do this is to make a shopping list before you set out, with some idea of what you want to pay for each item – and stick to it. When there’s a shopping frenzy all around you, having a list in hand is the best way to avoid making purchases you’ll regret later.
Scope it out first. You can’t be in two places at once, alas. Will you go to an individual store, like Century 21, or a mall? In Brooklyn, New York, you’ve got a growing choice of malls: the Atlantic Center Mall? Kings Plaza? Macy’s and the stores in the Fulton Mall? Or Gateway Mall?
Prioritize the most expensive items first. You won’t be able to get everything on your list, so you might as well save the most money on the largest items.
Make sure your credit or debit card is ready for Black Friday shopping. There’s nothing worse, or more embarrassing, than standing in line for an hour only to discover that your credit card isn’t accepting the charge.
Decisions, decisions: Are you a solo shopper? Or do you like company? For some, the motto “he who travels lone travels fastest” applies to shopping. Others like to bring their spouse, sister or friend. If you’ve got your eye on two very different big ticket items, like a TV and also a car, then you might need to enlist your family members or friends to help shop so you can get the best bargains early. If you’ve got young children, it’s wise to leave them with a babysitter; this is heavy-duty shopping, and kids won’t find it all that much fun.
Be prepared to wait outside or in. Wear comfy shoes, travel light and bring a snack. Wear weather-appropriate clothes, like a jacket or rain coat if you’re going to get to the store super early and wait online outside. Wear super comfortable shoes, too — and outer wear that won’t be bulky if you end up taking it off inside an overheated, crowded store. Bring snacks like an apple or energy bar, a bottle of water, and your patience. Lines can be long.
Work out your transportation: Figure out how you’re going to get to the store, and back. If you’re going very early, check the mass transit schedules or the parking situation. If you plan to buy a huge item, like TV, either drive or have the phone number of a car service handy.
Charge your cell phone or smart phone the day before so you can stay connected.
Even if you don’t arrive at 4 a.m. try to get there as early as you can. Some stores have limited quantities on the best bargains. Some end their sales when you might normally be enjoying your second cup of morning coffee. As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm.
Ten Tips for Smart Black Friday Shopping
Or … Stay home instead! Have a bagel, stay in your pajamas, and shop online. See www.DealsofAmerica.com or just check your favorite online sites.
Brooklyn shoppers — whether you’re visiting for Thanksgiving or live in Brooklyn — have more than a few choices. You can go to the local Brooklyn stores and malls, which offer a good selection. Or, head to Long Island or upstate New York to the discount malls. And, of course, you can always head to Manhattan, a shopping Mecca.
Tip: Some experts suggest that consumers can buy an item in advance, and then bring it with the receipt to adjust the price on Black Friday. This strategy carries the obvious risk that the stores will say no.
Black Friday is the retailers’ way of enticing shoppers to start spending for the big Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa season. Happy hunting!