On your mark, get set, shop

Published 12:01 pm Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shoppers stream into Target after doors open during Black Friday last year. -- Herald file photo

Shoppers stream into Target after doors open during Black Friday last year. — Herald file photo

Let the games begin.

As families enjoy Thanksgiving meals or watch one of the annual Thanksgiving football games Thursday, many more area residents will prepare for another sport of sorts: Black Friday shopping.

“I think that to some people, shopping is a sport, and Black Friday is no different,” Austin Target store manager Diane Eagen said.

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Shopko’s assistant manager Kelli Miller agreed it’s a shopping time like none other.

“I think a lot of people feed off that excitement,” she said. “It’s like a rush, almost.”

 Thanksgiving start times

For the second straight year, most shoppers are bursting through the gates of retail stores earlier on Thanksgiving Day rather than in the early hours of Black Friday.

Target will be open 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving through the night and to 11 p.m. on Friday. Deals continue throughout the weekend. Shopko will offer 100 early release doorbusters from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday before reopening with more than 850 doorbusters from 8 p.m. Thursday to noon Friday; the store will be open until 11 p.m. Walmart will open at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving, with deal events at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday and 8 a.m. on Friday

After opening at 8 p.m. last year, Austin’s Sears, located in Oak Park Mall, will open from 7 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving and will then open at 6 a.m Friday.

Austin’s Younkers will open be 8 p.m. Thursday through 10 p.m. Friday. Last year, manager Randy Forster said opening early at midnight was a success.

“They were extremely popular,” he said of the earlier hours.

Sterling Main Street is sticking to Black Friday, opening at 8:30 a.m.

Thursday success

While the earlier hours have drawn mixed reactions from the public, most retailers gave 2012’s early hours positive reviews.

Eagen said sales were strong at Target, and many shoppers were happy to avoid waiting in lines and shopping early Friday morning.

“It went very, very well,” she said. “We got a ton of positive feedback from our guests.”

Sears Owner Cory Squier said he had a good turnout last year opening on Thanksgiving evening.

“It exceeded my expectations,” he said.

The Thursday crowd took the place of the morning shoppers, as Squier said he had far fewer people when they reopened at 4 a.m. last year. This year, Sears will close at midnight and open again at 6 a.m. Friday.

However, others said reactions to the earlier hours were mixed.

“People were very receptive to it,” Shopko’s Miller said. “Some people really liked it. Some people weren’t so happy about it, so there were mixed reactions.”

Miller said shoppers said they felt they had to be out on Thanksgiving in order to get the deals before items sold out.

While Black Friday is undoubtedly a busy time for retailers, most employees seem to enjoy it. Shopko’s store manager Pam Oster is looking forward to her first Black Friday at Austin’s Shopko after more than 30 years in the business.

“It’s the one time of the year you can really interact with your customers, get to know them and really have a lot of fun,” she said.

Miller added most team members enjoy it, too.

“It’s something out of the norm,” she said.

Eagen said her Target staff enjoys Black Friday, and many consider it one of their favorite times to work.

“There’s something about the energy and the vibe and the atmosphere,” she said.

Other stores like Sterling Main Street are resisting the urge to open early. Main Street will not be open on Thanksgiving; instead, the store will be open regular business hours Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Our owners let our families enjoy the holidays with our families,” store manager Jessica Jenkins said.

Main Street will continue an annual Black Friday deal where shoppers get 50 percent off as many items as they can fit in a sale bag.

“Every year it’s a huge hit,” Jenkins said.

The sale is open to all merchandise, and Jenkins expects Yankee Candles, gift items and clothing to be the most sought-after items.

Main Street held a flash sale recently where deals were announced hours ahead of time. Jenkins said it was popular, and they intend to do it again throughout the holidays.

“We try to find unique things to do with our customers,” Jenkins said, noting flash sales will be announced through the store’s Facebook page and via email.

The big deals

Which retailer has the best Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals?

That’s up to the shopper to decide, but — as expected — each store manager and owner pointed to his or her own store.

“Black Friday is our day – our Super Bowl – and we’re ready to prove once again that no one does it better than Walmart,” said Walmart President and CEO Bill Simon in a press release. “We’re excited to give our customers an incredible Black Friday with shopping hours that will allow them to take advantage of great prices on Thanksgiving night and all weekend long.”

Walmart leaders are boasting that they’ll have more inventory for lower prices this year, especially televisions and tablets. Walmart also announced plans to match deals at some other retailers.

At Shopko, Oster and Miller expect tablets, televisions, Beats and Skull Candy headphones, bluetooth speakers, movies and certain toys lines to be the big sellers.

“We offer the best deal here at Shopko,” Miller said.

Shopko will have extensive doorbusters this years — more than 850 items, which Miller said is probably the most ever.

Doorbusters end at noon Friday at Shopko, but various deals continue through the weekend, including a 5 a.m. sale Friday morning and a Super Saturday sales where bounceback coupons given out Thursday and Friday are redeemable.

At Target, Eagen expects electronics, TVs, small appliances and children’s clothing to be the top-selling items. iPads could also be a big seller, as Target will give away $100 coupons for people who purchase iPads.

At Sears, appliances and tools will be the hot-ticket items, and Squier said more people are waiting until Black Friday and Thanksgiving to buy appliances.

Younkers will offer deals on brands like John Bartlett men’s; Kenneth Roberts men’s; Ruff Hewn women’s, men’s and accessories; Laura Ashley women’s and accessories; and Living Quarters home, to name a few.

But it’s not just the retailers who benefit from Black Friday and Thanksgiving shopping, as many restaurants and other businesses alter hours to accommodate the crowds of shoppers.

“I think the whole community benefits from it,” Oster said.

 A family tradition

Black Friday has definitely evolved in recent years. Eagen no longer sees the hardcore shoppers of a few years ago — the types who didn’t mind waiting in line early in the morning. Now with Thursday hours, Eagen said more families, teens and children seek out Black Friday deals.

“We’re actually getting a broader base and accommodate more people’s schedules,” Eagen said.

At Shopko, Miller also saw more children, grandparents and families out last year with the earlier hours.

For many, Black Friday has become a family tradition, something Miller said many families now do together after finishing Thanksgiving meals. Some families even split up between retail stores to seek the best deals.

Miller noted Shopko and other retailers always hope for good weather, as cold weather or snow can deter shoppers from waiting in line.

Eagen doesn’t see the trend of stores opening on Thanksgiving ending anytime soon. As to whether shopping will continue to happen earlier, Eagen anticipates shoppers and trends in the economy will determine that.

“If people are going to be out shopping then retail will be open,” she said.