Electronics, family gifts, basics top shopping choices
Rachel Cook and Courtenay Edelhart / Bakersfield Californian
It will be a while before official sales figures for Black Friday are tabulated and released, but electronics — which have been strong performers for several years running — seem to be continuing their reign as leaders of the holiday shopping season, if anecdotal evidence is any guide.
In Bakersfield, it was the electronics sections of Target and Walmart that seemed to draw the most traffic Friday. At 10 p.m. Thursday, there was a line to even get into the Best Buy parking lot, not to mention the store itself.
“They’re buying family gifts,” he said. “Things the whole family can use, like Wiis and televisions. Televisions are at their lowest prices in years.”
Josh Kerley, who sat outside the Northwest Promenade GameStop at about 11:30 Thanksgiving night, started off at Walmart.
“It was a little insane with all the people maneuvering,” the 22-year-old said.
He and his friend, Emma Smizer, 16, along with Smizer’s sister and her fiance, had decided on a whim to check out Black Friday shopping earlier that evening.
“The electronics were the worst,” Smizer said. Still, the four had waited in a series of long lines within the store and bought a discounted 32-inch TV.
Shopping or buying?
Green spent Black Friday sizing up traffic at stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, and said he “saw a lot of people, but not a lot of shopping bags.”
He wondered how many people were browsing as opposed to actually buying.
“The season is starting earlier than it ever has before,” Green said. “I think a lot of people are done with their shopping before Black Friday.”
That early start might be a wise move for consumers, he added.
“Prices could actually go up the closer we get to Christmas as inventories thin out,” Green said. “That would be a first.”
The throngs storming retailers on Black Friday are often viewed as a bellwether of the holiday shopping season.
“If (Friday) starts off good, that means consumers are pretty interested in spending,” said Jackie Fernandez, a retail partner with the Los Angeles office of accounting and consulting firm Deloitte.
Up to 152 million people planned to shop Black Friday weekend, higher than the 138 million people who planned to do so last year, according to a National Retail Federation survey conducted earlier this month.
Fernandez noticed people were stocking up on basics, especially clothing, linens and household items at a Glendale mall where she spent the day. She said that kind of buying makes sense because southern Californians who have had a tough couple of years need to replenish their staples.
“Maybe the frivolous gifts is not number one,” she said.
For Jessica Bueno, her husband, Ernesto, and her mother, Lynette Frantz, a Bakersfield Walmart stop was all about essentials.
They arrived at about 10 p.m., and by about 12:30 a.m., they were packing a small sedan with purchases, including a discounted vacuum cleaner. Gifts for the Buenos’ new baby, who was in tow, would have to come from somewhere else.
“We couldn’t even get to the toy section,” Jessica Bueno said.
Timing and money
Frantz said she’d read articles about Black Friday saying that retailers’ decisions to open Thanksgiving night rather than Friday morning were for customers.
“It’s not,” she said.
“It’s the big businesses,” added Ernesto Bueno, as he loaded bags into the trunk.
Frantz said she thought stores should open at 9 in the morning, and that the customers would still show up.
“Let people sleep,” she said.
However, midnight openings didn’t appear to deter many shoppers. Target spokesman Eddie Baeb, speaking from the company’s headquarters in Minneapolis, said customers seemed pleased with the retailer’s earlier opening.
“Our early impressions are that it was met with real enthusiasm with our guests,” Baeb said.
Sticking with the electronics trend, Baeb said the store’s doorbuster television sales were “really big draws and top sellers.” Cameras and DVDs also sold well, Baeb said, while a battery-powered, ride-on Mini Cooper and Disney princess musical vanity were hot toy buys.
While Baeb said it was too soon to say how well Target fared in the Black Friday fray, he noted some stores reported bigger pre-opening lines than last year.
Even stores that didn’t offer Black Friday discounts felt a boost from the shopping hoopla. Customer traffic was up at the Emporium Western Store in Bakersfield from the last couple years, co-owner Stephen Goldwater said.
“It’s been steady. It’s not been Black Friday mania here, but it never is,” Goldwater laughed.
The store sees a run-off effect of Black Friday shoppers after they’ve hit the big stores and are looking for a special gift, Goldwater said. He had higher hopes for Saturday.
“We are looking forward to Small Business Saturday,” Goldwater said Friday. “We’re kind of hoping that it will be a good uptick for us.”
Jocelyn Gonzalez, manager of discount retailer Factory 2-U on Niles Street, said the store didn’t have any sales but was plenty busy Friday.
“Our store’s so cheap there’s really no reason to run promotions,” Gonzalez said.
Womens’ pajama pants were “selling like crazy,” along with childrens’ sweater sets, puffy jackets and other winter clothes, the manager said.
“All a sudden around one, (the rush) really hit us,” she said.
Even if turnout was strong Friday, unknowns including gas prices and real estate could shutter seasonal shopping, Fernandez said.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” she said.