Image:
ROBERT SMITH/THE LEAF-CHRONICLE  /  AP
Rusty Wolfe waits for his wife, Heather to bring more items to their cart while shopping at Kmart in Clarksville, Tenn. Deep discounts and extended hours lured shoppers to malls on Black Friday, which is typically the heaviest shopping day of the year.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/26/2010 7:47:45 PM ET 2010-11-27T00:47:45

Shoppers were back in a "Black Friday" bargain-binging mood, snapping up hoodies and computer laptops at stores, in a turnout that could give the economic recovery more steam.

In contrast to the past two years, shoppers said they were buying more for themselves and less focused only on price, while also saying the deals were not as deep as in the past.

"This is shaping up to be one of the biggest 'Black Fridays' we've seen," said David Bassuk, managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners, citing store promotions and intense advertising campaigns.

As retailers look for their best holiday season in three years, less generous deals could help them avoid steep discounts later and bode well for their margins. Lengthened hours that pushed some store openings into Thanksgiving also appeared to pay off.

Toys R Us drew in shoppers with 50 percent discounts on such toys as Buzz Lightyear and Barbies. The retailer's flagship store in Times Square drew 1,500 shoppers even at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, company CEO Jerry Storch said.

While retail executives tend to project optimism in media appearances on "Black Friday," they still have weeks to wait for total returns from the holiday season.

Early anecdotal evidence from shoppers who lined up at stores well before dawn on Friday and from industry analysts who hopped between several malls suggested traffic was strong and the appetite to buy was up from a year ago.

Macy's Inc. CEO Terry Lundgren said the retailer had 7,000 shoppers outside its flagship Herald Square store in Manhattan at 4 a.m. on Friday, 2,000 more than last year.

"There seems to be a lot more men and a lot more younger consumers between the ages of 15 and 25," Lundgren told Reuters.

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said products like smartphones, e-readers, computers and mobile computing devices were selling very well. Video game systems like Microsoft Corp.'s Kinect and Sony Corp.'s Move were also "drawing a lot of interest and a lot of action," he said.

"There are customers that are grabbing multiple items for their basket. So far so good," Dunn told Reuters. "I think the consumer is going to come out this holiday season."

The crescendo follows a weeks-long push to woo shoppers. Many stores had trotted out the "Black Friday" label on sales as far back as October.

  1. Related content
    1. Thanksgiving sales bring shoppers, grumbles
    2. Slideshow: Black Friday cartoons
    3. The best Black Friday deal apps
    4. Eat turkey, then check these 5 websites for deals
    5. Black Friday has lost its luster ... or has it?
    6. Black Friday strategy: Shop, or sleep

Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said that discounting was more in the range of 25 to 40 percent this year, compared with 30 to 50 percent last year. And shoppers sensed the change.

"I'm looking at the TV and it says save $70 and I'm like, come on, you've got to be kidding," Sanjay Patil told Reuters, as he and other shoppers waited outside a Best Buy Co Inc. store in Princeton, N.J., before midnight, even though the electronics retailer didn't open until 5 a.m.

"If it's 'Black Friday,' it has to be 100 or 120 bucks savings minimum," he said.

The National Retail Federation forecast that up to 138 million people would go to stores this weekend. The industry trade group also forecast a 2.3 percent increase in sales during November and December, up from a 0.4 percent rise a year earlier. Other forecasts call for even greater increases.

Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

"Unlike last year, these people are there to buy, not browse," Sozzi said in an e-mail message.

"Where there are bargains, there are people looking to gobble them up," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for market research firm NPD. Though people were mostly sticking to their lists, some were picking up small extras. However, "the consumer is still very calculated."

Teen shoppers were notably out in force. Chain stores popular with that age group include Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters.

"More teenagers are shopping and paying higher prices, which shows that consumers are more willing to spend their discretionary income as opposed to saving it," said Jharonne Martis-Olivo, director of consumer research, Thomson Reuters.

The earlier hours were an enticement to shoppers like Jessica Marshburn, who was armed with a Rockstar energy drink and an advertising insert from a newspaper.

"It's easier this year. I just stayed up," said Marshburn, who was at Washington Square mall in Tigard, Ore., for its midnight opening. Her game plan? Kohl's, Target, and Best Buy, as they opened. She and her friend Cristy Doering were shopping for themselves while keeping their eyes open for any deals that might make good gifts.

At the Walmart store in Columbia, Md., customers came in waves, with a big rush at midnight when toys and apparel went on sale and then another surge beginning just before the cut-rate electronics were hauled out at 5 a.m. Parking spots were in short supply and shopping carts were even more scarce, as people stalked the exits waiting for discarded ones.

The chain averted the dangers of years past by keeping its doors open all night to head off potential stampedes. While there was a steady influx of shoppers, no one dashed through aisles or shoved. Instead, they lined up for tickets entitling them to heavily discounted televisions and computers and then camped out in cordoned-off aisles.

Video: Black Thursday begins (on this page)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened many of its stores on Thanksgiving Day and the doors stayed open overnight, a tactic it adopted after an employee was trampled to death two years ago on "Black Friday."

Story: Feds to retailers: Have a safe Black Friday, or else

While the system kept things orderly, some shoppers didn't appreciate it.

Kelly Miller was looking to do some marathon gift shopping, but ended up buying just a few toys, including a game of Candyland marked down to $4.

"I might have picked up more," she said, "if I could have found what I wanted without stepping on people lying on the floor. I got fed up."

Unlike years past when people suffered injuries when rushing the entrance as stores opened, only one incident was reported by midday Friday. A military serviceman was recovering from a stab wound to the back when he attempted to stop a customer from shoplifting, according to NBC affiliate WAGT in Augusta, Ga.

Retailers are hoping to capture others' dollars online. Walmart and Target were among a gaggle of retailers that dramatically stepped up deals on their websites Thursday, hoping to lure online shoppers stuffed with turkey.

The fierce battle for shoppers' wallets promises savings for those willing and able to buy amid an economy that's still worrying many.

  1. More must-see stories
    1. The Hartford Courant, Political
      Wild Wall St.

      Has the market volatility got you nervous? These cartoons may give you a little comic relief.

    2. Cyber-thieves create fake Kelley Blue Book site
    3. US says Reebok toning shoes don't really
    4. Can you live on $9 an hour? Play the game

PayPal, the online payments unit of eBay Inc, said Thanksgiving Day payment volume rose 25 percent. It also reported a 25 percent rise in payment volume for "Black Friday" by 2 p.m. EST versus a year ago.

The good news is that retailers are heading into the season with some momentum after a solid start to November. Shoppers who can afford it are buying more nonessentials, like jewelry and luxury goods. That's helping to lift their spirits about the holiday season, which is expected to generate revenue gains modestly higher than a year ago.

"It's a dogfight between retail companies," said Chris Donnelly, a senior executive in consulting group Accenture's retail practice. "This year is the first time that there's a little more money in the marketplace so they're being more aggressive about getting the last dollar. At the end of the day, they're going to outweigh people who are pulling back."

Still, nearly 15 million are unemployed, and concerns about job security still cloud consumer confidence. Spending may be picking up but has not returned to pre-recession levels.

So, retailers are pushing deals on basics as well as offering discounts on more deluxe items, from bigger flat-panel TVs to more elaborate play sets.

Kohl's, which opened at 3 a.m. Friday, one hour earlier than a year ago, is promoting diamond bracelets and diamonds heart pendants for $99 each, down from $500 or $575. The store is also offering 50 percent off all toys.

Video: The key to Black Friday bargains? Your Blackberry (on this page)

About 200 shoppers were lined up waiting to pay for their purchases at the Toys R Us store in Lawrenceville, N.J., early Friday. Christine Barron had boxes piled over her head after shopping for her two-year-old son David.

"I wanted to be one of the first in line, but when I got here the line was already wrapped around the side of the building," Barron said.

Thanksgiving weekend is huge for retailers. In recent years, "Black Friday" has been the busiest shopping day of the year, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak. But it doesn't necessarily provide a complete forecast of holiday sales. In fact, shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year, so the fate of the holiday season is increasingly down to the last few days.

Retailers do study buying patterns for the weekend to discern shoppers' mindset. This year, that means taking the measure on their willingness to spend just a little bit more.

Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend accounted for 12.3 percent of overall holiday revenue, according to ShopperTrak. "Black Friday" made up about half of that.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Black Friday: Bargains, crowds and a protester

loading photos...
  1. People shop at the Times Square Toys "R" Us for the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday sales in New York. "Black Friday" is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year and kicks off the holiday shopping season for retailers. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Early bird shoppers crowd the Belk department store at Streets of Southpoint mall in Durham, N.C. (Shawn Rocco / The News & Observer via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Children wait with shopping bags inside Macy's department store on "Black Friday." Early signs point to a solid turnout for holiday shopping season. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Shoppers line up outside Macy's waiting for the store to open on "Black Friday" in New York. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Shoppers are let into Toys"R"Us two hours before the start of "Black Friday." (Michael Nagle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Nikki Donald, left, and Barbi Harris look over deals in their tent while waiting for Best Buy to open at 5 a.m. in Atlanta. The pair, like hundreds of other early-morning shoppers, got in line the night before hoping to snag a deal. (Rich Addicks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Hundreds of shoppers wait for the doors to open at Best Buy in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. (Tony Dejak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Shoppers run into a Target store as the doors are opened to shop in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. (Adam Hunger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Shoppers file into Macy's in New York. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Andrew Lapchynski, 22, is greeted by employees as he enters Best Buy in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Lapchynski came into the store to buy a television. (Tony Dejak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman walks by a store's discount advertisement inside the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, New York. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Kyle Pinard takes a last minute inventory of how much money he has to spend as he waits in line with other shoppers at a Best Buy in Dartmouth, Mass. (Peter Pereira / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Shoppers take advantage of Black Friday sales in the early morning at a Target store in Chicago. The store opened at 4 a.m. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Shoppers during "Midnight Madness" at the Tyson's Corner Center mall in Tyson's Corner, Virginia. Tyson's Corner Center is the largest shopping center in the Washington, DC area. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Anna and Richard Muller sit inside a shopping cart during "Black Friday" sales at the Toys R Us store in Carle Place, New York. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Shoppers at Macy's on "Black Friday." (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A protester is removed from from Macys in New York as crowds rush in to start their "Black Friday" shopping. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Bargain hunters pour over electronic goods at a Best Buy just after its 5 a.m. opening in Fairfax, Virginia. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Target store employee directs shoppers in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. (Adam Hunger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Video: Who’s spending?

  1. Closed captioning of: Who’s spending?

    >>> there are some fascinating stats out tonight on who spends the most money this time of year or year round for that matter, from the retail federation and bundle.com. they were posted today. they say men spend 19% more than women. among u.s. cities, the people in austin, texas are the biggest spenders throughout the year. and among states, the folks who live in connecticut spend the most.

    >>> finally, those who do their holiday shopping online spend almost 25% more than those who shop in the stores. there are more great stats you can link to at all via our website, nightly.msnbc.com.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.32%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.05%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.51%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 10.98%
10.96%
Cash Back Cards 16.43%
16.45%
Rewards Cards 16.00%
15.99%
Source: Bankrate.com