Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune—Beth McCullagh and her daughter ran to the entrance of Macy’s — not to be the first in line for doorbuster deals, but to get out of the 50-degree weather.
McCullagh and her daughter are career Black Friday shoppers. Together, they’ve managed the lines, the crowds and the long early-morning hours spent in malls and other shopping plazas. But they have always come home victorious, bearing bags and boxes full of gifts acquired at prices that make friends and family envious.
With bellies still full of turkey and casserole, McCullagh and Leland were among the 33 million projected to shop on Thanksgiving night this year, according to data from the National Retail Federation.
Early openings at Best Buy, Target and others weren’t enough to lure McCullagh from the dinner table. For them, the hunt began at 9 on Thanksgiving night, at the Brandon Town Center. It is 45 minutes away from the McCullagh homestead in Lakewood Ranch.
“This is the third year in a row we’ve come to Brandon to shop,” McCullagh said, handing off coupons and doorbuster-deal fliers to Leland. “I have the kids circle what they want in the ads, then get the tracking numbers for those items so I’m prepared when I walk in.”
McCullagh then hunts down a retail employee, hands over her list … and off they go, hunting down the doorbuster deals she has come here to buy. At Macy’s, that means winter coats, a purse and other clothes.
3 coupons, better than 1
The two are anxious for the opening of the Mall at University Town Center.
That $315 million retail project by Taubman Centers Inc. and Benderson Development is expected to attract high-end chains like Apple, Kate Spade and Tiffany’s, among others, and be open in time for the holidays next year.
“It will be nice when we won’t have to drive so far to get everything we need,” McCullagh said.
The mother-daughter pair had stockpiled advertisements in a big red bag earlier in the day as they prepared for the shopping excursion.
Macy’s, Dicks Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and Target were among the top stores to hit this year. Other stops included Victoria’s Secret, Books-a-Million, Abercrombie Kids and Forever 21.
The intrepid shoppers used three newspapers worth of ads, taking two Thanksgiving Day editions from family members who came to visit for the holiday.
“Three coupons are better than one,” McCullagh said.
By 9 p.m. the Westfield Mall in Brandon, but not nearly what one would expect for Black Friday. Shoppers buzzed around Macy’s, which had stockpiled purses, women’s boots and winter clothes for doorbuster offerings.
But the lines at checkout stations were not long. The SuperTarget just down the street was easy to navigate, too. Both retailers opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night this year.
“It seems like because the deals are spread out; the crowds are, too,” said Leland, a sophomore at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota.
Looking for good news
The National Retail Federation predicts that 140 million people will be out shopping during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.
That would be down 5 percent from the crowds that shopped in 2012.
The federation estimates that holiday sales will increase by 3.9 percent this year to $602 billion nationwide.
Sales were up by 2.6 percent at chain stores across the country the week before Black Friday, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. On a year-over-year basis, sales slowed to a 2.1 percent increase.
“With more consumers likely to shop during the Thanksgiving week than in the past year, much of the month’s performance will be dependent on how business is during Black Friday and over the course of the weekend,” said Michael Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist for ICSC.
The trade group predicts sales will increase by up to 4.5 percent this year when compared with last year because of the earlier shopping hours on Thanksgiving Day.
But some experts say that earlier hours may generate the same amount of traffic as in years past, but with fewer people making purchases.
“It seems that shoppers are coming in for doorbuster deals and leaving for the next store,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst based in Phoenix who is very familiar with the local shopping scene. “The biggest question is, how will this affect the retailer? If there’s not a lot of cross-shopping, then sales will be disappointing.”
Westfield’s Sarasota Square mall had dozens of shoppers waiting at every entrance before the midnight opening, said Sam Davidson, marketing marketing director for Florida.
That is exactly what Bob Parker, general manager of the JCPenney there, had expected.
“We get two kinds of shoppers: the professionals who wait for the doorbusters and are here when we open the doors, and the traditional shoppers that come in after Thanksgiving when they can,” Parker said.
While sales were strong last year, Parker predicts Penney will have a better season in 2013. The company, which came under fire this year during a corporate restructuring, resurrected its sales price and coupon strategy earlier in the year.
This year marked the first time the department store opened at 8 on Thanksgiving night.
Bealls department stores also saw crowds of shoppers waiting for its 8 p.m. store openings on Turkey Day, said Bill Webster, spokesman for the Bradenton-based company.
This year, the retailer offered more doorbuster deals than ever before, including iPad Mini giveaways at every store. Shoppers also could register for a chance to win a lifetime discount.
“Our stores are open all night and all day Friday,” Webster said. “But unlike the other retailers, we have giveaways that no one else is doing.”
Fans camped out in front of Sarasota and Bradenton Best Buys, too. Best Buy opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
The Ellenton Premium Outlets parking lot was packed well past 3 a.m. on Black Friday as the shopping venue celebrated its annual midnight madness spree. Many retailers opened earlier this year, some as early as 8 p.m.
Saving ’til the very end
After cruising through the mall and other nearby stores, McCullagh and Leland made their last stop of the night at Kohl’s.
The store was easily the most packed retailer that the shopping duo had seen — even at 2 a.m.
McCullagh packed a cart full of blankets, pajamas and shoes. When it came time to check out, she handed over a stack of paper coupons that gave her another 10 to 15 percent off. It was something she had done at many other stores earlier in the night.
Her $325 worth of gifts would cost a total of $42.
“This is why we do this,” McCullagh said, packing the last bags into the already overstuffed trunk of her SUV.
Her personal best? Saving $984 at Kohl’s last year.
It’s nearly 3 a.m. when McCullagh decides to call it quits, but she plans to head out again around 6 a.m. to hit the stores that will not be open until after the sun comes up.
Sports Authority and RadioShack are the two she plans to get to then.
“Most of the deals are running all through the weekend, too. There’s not the rush there once was.
“You can shop all weekend now.”