CENTER TWP. — Gina Murphy of Monaca was at Walmart around 9:30 p.m. Thursday waiting for the midnight sale to begin. Only 32 LeapFrog Leapsters were being sold. Murphy hoped to snag one.
“I got one,” said Murphy, who stopped in Target later that morning with her 11-year-old daughter, Maya.
Business was booming at area stores as the beginning of the traditional holiday started. Many shoppers were enticed by early-morning sales, promotions and deals this year that seemed too good to be true. Some diehards waited for hours in line before stores opened at an earlier hour.
According to the National Retail Federation, up to 138 million people planned to shop on Black Friday, Saturday and today, more than the 134 million people who planned to shop during the same time last year.
Lori Reda, director of marketing at the Beaver Valley Mall, said shopping was strong first thing in the morning and throughout the day Friday as plenty of buyers flocked to anchor stores such as Macy’s, JC Penney, Sears and Boscov’s, before 4 a.m. looking to catch heavily discounted items and early “doorbuster” sales. At one point, Reda said 350 people were lined up outside Boscov’s.
“We’ve been steady, and we’ve definitely been busy since first thing this morning,” Reda said. “Some stores are doing sales all weekend long.”
But it was unclear whether the surge of early shoppers was a one-time thing or an indication of what retailers can expect this holiday season.
It’s probably a bit of both, according to Jennifer Jacobson, director of public relations for Retrevo, a consumer electronics review and shopping website. She believes a lot of retailers will keep prices low even after New Year’s in order to move inventory. In the meantime, she said, consumers will spend cautiously.
“I definitely see people doing a lot of shopping and probably even more shopping, but not necessarily buying,” Jacobson said. “This is the year of the savvy shopper. … I think people are really going to shop around.”
Susan Smith of Beaver Falls left the house at 8 a.m. to shop with her three daughters, Shana, Mallory and Sydney. Smith left Bath and Body Works with plenty of bags, but said she wasn’t planning to do her big Christmas shopping until mid-December.
“This gives me the opportunity to see what they want,” Smith said.
Local retailers didn’t provide the exact number of shoppers or the amounts they spent, but an informal check of Center Township’s retailers — Best Buy, Sears, Target and Walmart — showed many big-ticket sales on electronics and appliances that were advertised were already gone by late Friday morning.
A front-loading washer and dryer set for $600 at Sears sold out fairly early, Reda said.
At Big Lots in East Rochester, a sewing machine and MP3 player also were sold out early, said Sally Main, associate manager at Big Lots.
And at Target, a display case that once held a $298, 40-inch flat-screen TV was empty. A spot check of other shelves showed shoppers had also gobbled up deals on a $49 portable DVD player, $79 Nikon Coolpix camera and a $79 TomTom GPS, regularly priced at $190.
Michael Keith, a senior team leader at Target, said shoppers were lined up to the end of the store before managers arrived at 2 a.m. to prepare for the early opening. Big-ticket electronics were gone before noon, he said, adding that no rain checks were being offered for sold-out sale items. A constant flow of shoppers still pushed carts, grabbed deals and left carrying at least one bag.
Murphy shopped the sales at four stores and was all shopped out by the time she reached Target. “I’m going home next,” she said.
SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGING HOW WE SHOP
Social media and the Internet have changed the way Black Friday shoppers catch the deals. Cyber Monday is the next Black Friday for shoppers who’d rather shop for bargains without entering a store. Many websites devoted to consumer sales begin leaking promotions well before sales begin, allowing shoppers a chance to do their homework and compare brands and prices.
This year, a number of stores used Facebook and Twitter to give status updates, announce upcoming deals and connect with shoppers in another way besides the traditional television or print ads.
“I’ve really seen an uptick this year when it comes to social media and people connecting with the brands they like and the stores they like on Facebook,” said Jennifer L. Jacobson, public relations director and outreach specialist at Retrevo, a shopping and review site for consumer electronics. “To reach your fans a few times a day on a Facebook page is huge.”
Retrevo, which has 37,000 Facebook fans, offers a resource center that compares electronic sales for buyers and as well as listing products to avoid, Black Friday “deals” included.
Anyone shopping between now and New Year’s Day can use Retrevo’s Twitter mobile app or SMS text messaging to compare prices for items in various stores. Simply Tweet the product make and model to “Retrevoq” and product information, such as cost and reviews, will come up.
— Larissa Theodore