Thanksgiving openings by some big retailers appear to have reduced the traditional frenzy of Black Friday shopping.
Black Friday, with its long lines, traditional pushing and shoving, and discount deals, is off and running, but seems a little less frenetic this year as many shoppers got a jump on bargain-hunting at retailers that opened Thanksgiving evening.
Macy's opened on Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Others like Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened some stores even earlier on Thanksgiving than last year. Many also pushed up into early November the discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday.
Instead of a line of pent-up shoppers busting through the door at 6 a.m., a Kmart store in midtown Manhattan in New York City was already packed with people who were shopping for clothing and holiday decor items since Thanksgiving night.
"This is the first time in a few years I've gone out for Black Friday," said Stephens, who was in town visiting relatives. "It's a good feeling to get a head start on Christmas shopping, especially when it's not too crazy like it is here."
Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9% to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That's higher than last year's 3.5% growth, but below the 6% pace seen before the recession.
Separately, the Associated Press reports that police responding to a shoplifting report at a Chicago-area Kohl's store shot the driver of a car that was dragging another officer outside. The dragged officer suffered a shoulder injury.
This year marks the five-year anniversary of a particularly notorious Black Friday: In 2008, a Walmart worker was trampled to death in New York and two men died after shooting each other at a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, Calif.
"It's all about having a crowd management plan in place," said Target public relations spokesperson Jessica Stevens. This includes making sure staff members are assigned to particular areas of the store and bringing in extra security guards. Employees arrived around 7 p.m. and had a last team meeting to get prepared before the doors opened, Stevens said.
Simon said the stores were filled with families on Thursday. "Having families out and children in the building gives it different feel" than on past Black Fridays, when there typically aren't kids shopping with parents.
"It's just gotten spread out over some additional hours so it just felt not as compressed," Gainer said. "The mall felt very calm in comparison to many of the malls in the past couple years that were those midnight madness openings. The crowds in the stores seemed manageable. It felt busy but controlled."
A line was already 500 people deep when Barry showed up at 4:15 p.m. Thursday at the store and may have swelled to close to 1,000 as the night went on. "The store was packed within 15 minutes of opening," Barry said. "People were in really great spirits."
Skylanders video games, the LeapPad2 Explorer kids' tablet, and a kit for making bracelets out of rubber bands that have become popular among kids this fall were some of the best-selling products. But shoppers also went for items that weren't necessarily on steep discount, he said.
While traffic eased between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., it picked up again in the early morning when the store released a new round of deals. And Toys R Us will kick off Cyber Monday two days early with deals starting Saturday for what's become "Cyber Week."
Ricci Conway, 19, and her friend Dakari Blunt from Maryland got up at 3 a.m to start off their Black Friday shopping at Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Va., and slowly made their way to Forever 21 at 4:45 a.m.. "It's like a head start on Christmas shopping and a head start on winter season," said Conway.
The earlier openings and sales have met with some resistance. Some workers' rights groups had planned protests on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they opposed having retail employees miss family meals at home.
In Williston, Vt., Kim Kilpeck started her shopping day at 3:30 a.m. Friday. Three hours later she was still at Walmart buying a smart phone to replace her aging flip phone. She had an electronic tablet, sheets and other gifts in her shopping cart.
Contributing: Sydney Kashiwagi, in Washington, D.C., Terri Hellenbeck, of theBurlington Free Press, Dominque Fong, of The (Palm Springs) Desert Sun; William H. McMichael of The (Wilmington) News Journal; Clay Chandler, The Clarion-Ledger;The Associated Press.