Thanks-shopping: Shoppers turn out in force for deals on Thanksgiving

A panoramic photo, stitched together from several different photos, shows a long line stretching back from the door of Target all the way past Staples Thursday night as shoppers wait for the doors to open. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

A panoramic photo, stitched together from several different photos, shows a long line stretching back from the door of Target all the way past Staples Thursday night as shoppers wait for the doors to open. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“It’s been good,” said Sears owner Cory Squier. “I’m liking that everyone’s patient in the store.”

More area retailers opened a day early than Black Friday this year, with stores like Walmart starting deals as early as 6 p.m. Target opened at 8 p.m. and Sears opened at 7 p.m. this year.

The Thanksgiving holiday didn’t distract shoppers from getting in line for store openings, as several people were in line at the Austin Target as early as 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Shoppers wait in line for registers to open up Thursday night at Target.

Shoppers wait in line for registers to open up Thursday night at Target.

“My mom told me if I didn’t get a TV, I’m not getting Christmas presents,” 14-year-old Emilio Pitchford said jokingly. Emilio and several friends and family members were waiting in the Target parking lot since about 1:30 p.m. He was among the first of more than 1,000 residents to come into the store.

Other people were ready for Black Friday deals with a list of stores and a team of shoppers to get holiday presents. Carleen Wolterman and her daughter, Lizzy, were out with friends and family as part of an annual tradition of organized shopping.

“We’ve done this for four or five years,” Lizzy said.

The Woltermans had plans to hit several Austin stores for deals throughout the night and into Friday morning, before ending the spree with breakfast at Perkins.

“We have this all mapped out,” Carleen said.

Black Friday shoppers found deals on many electronics and appliances. Josh Richolson waited in line for hours with his friends to pick up three 50-inch flatscreen TVs, which they stacked onto a cart and rolled through the checkout line.

“One for each of us,” he said.

Squier wasn’t surprised by the amount of attention appliances were getting at Sears. Over the past few years, more shoppers are drawn to deals on appliances “rather than toolkits,” he said.

The holiday openings are a break with tradition. The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, for a decade had been considered the official start to the holiday buying season. It’s also typically the biggest shopping day of the year.

But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. They’ve also pushed up discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November, which has led retail experts to question whether the Thanksgiving openings will steal some of Black Friday’s thunder.

In fact, Thanksgiving openings took a bite out of Black Friday sales last year: Sales on turkey day were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

“Black Friday is now Gray Friday,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. “It’s been pulled all the way to the beginning of November.”

Stores are trying to get shoppers to buy in an economy that’s still challenging. While the job and housing markets are improving, that hasn’t yet translated into sustained spending increases among most shoppers.

Shoppers wait in line to pay for items just outside of Younkers at the Oak Park Mall Thursday night.

Shoppers wait in line to pay for items just outside of Younkers at the Oak Park Mall Thursday night.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion during the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores. More than two dozen stores including Walmart and Kohl’s have already lowered their profit outlooks for the year.

Not everyone was happy with the new hours, however. Lou Hansen, a veteran Black Friday shopper, was out with her daughter Athena on Thursday to pick up several headphones and other items at Younkers inside Oak Park Mall. Though Lou was able to get what she wanted — Younkers officials say about 300 to 400 shoppers lined up for Thanksgiving deals — she wasn’t happy about shopping a day early, and during a family holiday.

“I love Black Friday, but this is getting ridiculous,” Lou said. “Then again, I’m out here with the rest of these people, so they must have done something right. But I’m not overly impressed.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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