By Eve Tahmincioglu
Extended Black Friday hours may have angered those store employees who had to work before their turkey dinners were digested, but many shoppers were happy with this year's earlier store opening times because they found fewer raucous crowds and shorter lines as a result.
“This was the absolute calmest Black Friday I have ever experienced,” said Nathan Luna, 24, who began his shopping trek at 12:08 a.m. this morning and headed to Best Buy in Wheaton, Md.
While things may have been more relaxed, projections for the number of consumers heading out on the biggest shopping day of the year are up.
According to data compiled for the National Retail Federation by BIGresearch, up to 152 million people plan to shop over the Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), that's higher than the 138 million people who planned to do so last year. According to the survey, 74 million people say they will definitely hit the stores and another 77 million are waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the cold and the crowds.
Overall, electronics and clothing were among the biggest scores for many consumers, especially video game players and high-end fashions. And many shoppers said they found the sales items they wanted, unlike past Black Fridays that offered slim pickings; and lots of sales people to help them navigate the stores.
Here are some first-hand accounts of the day and deals from Black Friday aficionados:
“The crowds were very well-behaved,” said Brad Williams, 39, an analyst for Duke University who headed out at 9:15 p.m. last night with his wife Wendy. “The line at Target, as I said, was enormous, but my wife said that the people there were jovial and pretty Zen about the wait. No pushing or shoving whatsoever.”
The couple has two young kids, but grandparents take the kids after Thanksgiving dinner to their house so Brad and his wife can shop unfettered.
"The crowds seemed to be bigger this year at Target and Kohl's, but smaller elsewhere," Williams added. "I think that has to do with when we arrived. We were in the teeth of the initial rush at those two places, but by the time we got to Crabtree, about 3 a.m., that had subsided and the second rush, when non-crazy people are getting up, hadn't yet begun."
The deals overall were good, he said, but his “best bargains” were “a pair of Lucky Brand jeans for my wife, which were $18 (original outlet price was $69.50, they were on clearance for $30, and 40 percent off that), and a Brooks Brothers sports shirt, which was $29.90.”
Anna Staab, 51, Metamora, Il., hit the stores around 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and found lots of merchandise available at Walmart and Menards, a regional department store chain. “After seeing plenty of merchandise left at Walmart at this hour we wondered if it had something to do with the economy or if people were just avoiding it due to the earlier hours,” she surmised.
Staab, a retired Post Master who has seven kids living with her, some foster, some adopted and some biological, said she needed to be out early to get the big bargains and ended up with quite a few.
Her biggest complaint was where Walmart placed the sales items.
“Big box items, i.e. trampoline, ping pong table, power ride on toys, were all at the back of the store. Customers had to fight the crowds with the huge boxes,” she explained. “They need a better system for those.”
And Staab didn't like that many retailers staggered sales throughout the night.
"Certain things went on sale at 10 p.m. Thursday, then midnight, then 8 a.m.," she noted.
Besides a few annoyances, she was able to get the one thing she really wanted. She's most proud of the Xbox with Kinect she got at Walmart for $199 and a $50 Walmart card included, about half the price it was last year.
The iPad 2 was the only thing Nathan Luna was looking for.
He arrived at the Best Buy in Wheaton, Md., at 12:20 a.m. and found the parking log jammed and a line of more than 700 people.
“Less-experienced Black Friday shoppers would have probably turned around in horror, but I pressed on,” said Luna, a TV photographer who has been Black Friday shopping since he was a kid when he shopped with his mom and grandmother.
Despite the crowds, he said, a group of police officers helped shuffle shoppers into the store and the line within 20 minutes after the store opened.
“I was greeted by a wall of Dynex 32-inch TVs and thousands of people jamming up the aisles,” he described. “I asked the greeter where the iPads were, and he directed me to the back of the store. I had to bump a few elbows to get back there, but when I did, I noticed something new.”
Instead of a line snaking around the entire store, he said, there were check-out lines scattered throughout the store near key items.
“When I got in the iPad line, I literally had eleven people in front of me,” he said, adding that it took about a half hour to check out, compared to the hours it has taken during past Black Fridays.
He eventually got his iPad for $454.
Erin Mellini was happy she paid $10 for VIP parking through Livingsocial for the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Rockaway, N.J., because she ended up with a prime parking spot.
“The VIP parking was nice and close, and it gave me peace of mind my car was in good hands because the mall security was in charge of it,” she said.
Mellini, 25, a zookeeper and educator from Randolph, N.J., found the mall relatively quiet when she got there at 5 am.
“The stores were not really picked clean,” she added, but “any deep discount item, which you needed a ticket for, was gone.
For example a $199, 42-inch HDTV from Best Buy was gone, but I got an external Toshiba hard drive that I was intending to buy and didn’t have to deal with the mad rush at midnight. I got it for $30 which is a very good price.”
The best deal, she noted, was a $40 WiFi streaming media player from Walmart.
“I was happiest to get that, which was a door-buster deal,” she explained, adding that most of the stores had a great supply of advertised merchandise.
Mellini acknowledged that she and her friend Erica, who joined her on the shopping excursion, didn’t have the same "adrenaline rush" they had on previous Black Fridays because the crowds seemed to be so spread out given the extended hours.
“We still had a great time and intend to maybe go out at midnight next year if that is going to become the norm for stores,” she added.