Retailers hope to break Black Friday weekend records

Shoppers lined up at stores and flocked to their computer screens in search of bargains on Black Friday, putting the retail industry on track for what it hopes will become a record sales weekend.

Shoppers appeared ready to open their wallets, buoyed by a generally strong economy and rising stock market. And major store chains did their part, offering dramatic discounts on their traffic-building “doorbuster” opening specials.

As a result, shopping center operator JLL says 73% of the 15 of its malls surveyed were reporting sales that were equal to or better than last year. And online sales looked even more vigorous. Black Friday sales online are expected to surpass $3 billion for the first time ever, Adobe Digital Insights said, hitting $3.05 billion in online revenue, up 11.3% over last year. With Thanksgiving Day sales added in, consumer online spending is expected to approach $5 Billion, an 11.4% increase over 2015, Adobe said.

Sales generated from smartphones and other mobile devices alone will top $1 billion for the first time, Adobe said. Walmart and Target said 60% of their online orders came from mobile.

All that online browsing led to a few glitches. Some shoppers at Macy’ got a message about a “temporary shopping jam’’ caused by heavier than normal traffic. They were asked to give the site 10 seconds to refresh their browser. As an alternative, shoppers could also call an 800 number to buy an item or to speak with a representative.

Whether it was at stores or online, shoppers were undaunted. Deals brought out consumers like Linda Dubbs, of Hanover, Penn., who turned her Black Friday shopping into a 16-hour-plus marathon that started at 2:30 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day. “As long as I keep going, I’m okay,” she said.

Dubbs wielded her smartphone for research to hunt for bargains that brought her to Home Depot at about 6:30 a.m. on Black Friday. “I checked to see if it was a good price or a bad price,” Dubbs said She secured the 12th spot in line at the home-improvement megastore after being eighth in line at a Kohl’s store earlier.

With an exuberant smile, she rattled off her purchases: clothes, shoes, a vacuum, a pressure cooker and pillows.

The holiday shopping season kicked off with people rushing through store doors early Friday morning. Shoppers sprang into action at the Best Buy in Watertown, Massachusetts at 1 A.M. (Nov. 25) AP

By being open on Thanksgiving Day, retailers had the chance to ring up more sales and take some of the pressure off store clerks when it comes to managing crowds.  “It’s totally different now than it used to be,” said Maura Macissac, manager of the Eddie Bauer store at Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “We used to open on Friday morning and there would be huge lines. Now we start on Thanksgiving so it’s a lot more spread out.”

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More than 137 million planned to shop over the extended Thanksgiving Day weekend, according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. But Black Friday remains the high mark with nearly three-fourths of buyers (74%) planning to shop then, about the same as last year.

Nearly half plan to shop on Saturday — about one out of four specifically to support Small Business Saturday. Another one out of four expect to shop Sunday, the retail trade group estimates.

Before its doors opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, 16,000 people had gathered at Macy’s flagship store in New York City’s Herald Square.

“We had a big crowd last year of 15,000,’’ said Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren. “But there were no gaps this year. The entire store, which is a city block, was completely surrounded with people waiting patiently.’’

If early sales are any indication, many of those early shoppers were coveting $15 fragrance sets, and cashmere sweaters on sale for $39.99, which were among the retailer’s top sellers. Time pieces that combined tech and luxury were also at the top of many shopping lists with the Series One Apple Watch sold out online by Friday morning.   

Pelting rain didn’t keep crowds away from the San Marcos Premium Outlets, 35 miles south of Austin, which opened their doors at midnight Thursday.

A variety of languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese and English, could be heard among the throngs of shoppers. Willie and Sandra White and their 21-year-old son, Rashad, drove the 45 miles from San Antonio to arrive at the shops at 7 a.m. It’s a yearly tradition for the Whites.

“This is really for us,” said Sandra White, after a morning spent at the Coach, Nike and Saks Fifth Avenue outlets. “We do it as a family.”

Reflecting on the money spent that morning, Willie White added: “Some of these stores should have my name on them.”

The lure of Black Friday stretches beyond U.S. borders, too. Ramon Reguera, 42, flew from Mexico City to San Antonio with family members Thursday, then drove to the outlets Friday morning — all to take advantage of the low prices and variety, he said.

Despite the crowds, stores and service are much better in the U.S. than Mexico, he said. “It’s orderly, the employees are respectful,” Reguera said. “It’s very different here.”

Shopping at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., Kate Gundburg, 33, of Accord, N.Y., figured she saved 40% to 70% on her purchases, which included a drone and several video games. She prefers shopping online. “This is my first time out in six years. I could do without the crowd,” said Gundburg, accompanied by her mother Carol Dennin.

“It’s a tradition,” Dennin said. “I’m not crazy about shopping online. It’s generational.”

In Louisville, Ky., Manasaa Kannan and friend Sanjana Mahesh headed out at 5 a.m. on the hunt for Converse sneakers.

Their advice? Refuse to pay retail price on Black Friday, Mahesh said, and “have fun. Don’t take it too seriously.”

In Colorado, hundreds of shoppers waited for stores to open at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, an upscale mall in Denver.

“You get more bang for your buck,” said Brittany Ehman, who drove more than two hours from the Colorado mountains to shop with her husband.

As she has for several years, Ehman was waiting outside the H&M store at the mall. The store traditionally rewards the first people in line with generous discount coupons, and Ehman, 30, planned to shop heavily for the couple’s five young children. But Ehman’s face fell as a store worker opened the grate and told shoppers they were only offering percentage discounts, which could also be found online.

“I’m so disappointed,” Ehman said.

For Matt Kita, Black Friday is a tradition that he has sold to his wife’s side of the family. In town from outside Philadelphia, he convinced them to hit Tyson’s Corner Center in McLean, Va., about 5 a.m.

But he noticed lower turnout and less urgency among the shopping crowds. “This seems pretty low-key this year,” Kita said. “I’ve seen it way crazier than this. This is pretty low key, pretty easy so far.”

If crowds seemed smaller that’s because Black Friday’s status as the busiest shopping day of the year is slowly slipping away.

“The holiday season that used to start at 6 a.m. on Black Friday morning starts a week or two before online or in store,’’ says Brian  Yarbrough, consumer analyst at Edward Jones. Coupled with a holiday weekend that concludes with Cyber Monday “Black Friday as a core shopping event that used to always be in the top five (shopping days) continues to decrease in importance.’’

That doesn’t bother Cedric Barnes of Dover, Del., an early morning shopper at the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach, Del. He prefers the more subdued Black Friday crowds. “It’s more civilized these days,” he said. “When they were kids, I was the guy up at 1 or 2 in the morning when the doors opened and the employees went running.”

Contributing: Dustin Levy in Hanover, Pa., Kirsten Clark in Louisville, Ky., Jason Plotkin in York, Pa., Scott Goss in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Ryan Miller in McLean, Va., Eli Blumenthal in Paramus, N.J., Trevor Hughes in Denver, Rick Jervis in Austin, Tex., and Anna Wolfe in Jackson, Miss.

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