Pulling all-nighters, Black Friday shoppers give retailers hope
Kavita Kumar / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By 10 a.m. on Black Friday, Amy Terris already was wrapping up her holiday shopping — after pulling an all-nighter.
Thousands of others followed her lead as retailers, wanting to jolt consumers from a slumbering economy, dangled earlier and deeper discounts this season, creating a circuit of staggered openings.
Toys R Us at 10 p.m. — on Thanksgiving. Then Walmart at midnight, Kohl’s at 3 a.m., Target at 4 a.m. The wee-hours bargain-hunting grind produced equally vigorous demand for coffee as recession-sobered shoppers nonetheless scooped up deals to help meet still-tight budgets. Around Brentwood Square, crews handed out Monster energy drinks.
“I’m going on 12 hours of shopping,” Terris, of Ellisville, said as she sat, surrounded by the spoils on the floor outside of Bath & Body Works at West County Center. She beamed at the 37-inch TV she picked up at Target before the sun came up that her husband, she said, “has been dreaming about.”
What made her even happier: paying with the cash she had saved for three months. “I shop until I’m out of money,” she said. “Then we eat lunch. Then we go home and collapse.”
Retailers worked tirelessly this year trying to capture such engaged but budget-minded consumers, and early reports from retailers and analysts indicate the strategy worked. Long lines of bundled-up shoppers in the pre-dawn hours of Black Friday pleased sales-hungry retailers who dangled earlier-than-ever sales and deep discounts. As usual, electronics and toy stores drew hordes of shoppers seeking a limited number of specially priced door-busters on everything from HDTVs to laptops to Justin Bieber dolls. Although the official verdict on Black Friday sales won’t come for at least a week, many retailers reported increased traffic.
“Every store I talked to this morning said they were ahead of their goals and plans — and up over last year,” said Sean Phillips, regional marketing director for CBL & Associates, which owns several malls in the St. Louis region. Stores saw both increased traffic and higher spending by each shopper, Phillips said.
But shoppers hunted aggressively for bargains, and, like Terris, many eschewed credit in favor of cash or debit cards. And they employed smart phone applications to compare prices and sales as they waited in long lines.
Loraine Raziq, 38, of O’Fallon, Mo., had her eye on a dual DVD player as she waited in line for the Target in O’Fallon to open at 4 a.m. She plans to spend the same amount on gifts as she did last year, and she wondered whether the lines simply signaled shoppers’ hunger for deals in a down economy.
“Maybe it’s just people being more frugal,” she said.
Other shoppers struggled with such discipline. “Every year we say we’re going to buy less, but we end up buying more,” said Mike Johnson of Fenton, holding a few Macy’s bags at South County Center as his daughter and wife checked out a nearby store.
Whatever the motivations, anecdotal reports indicate shopper may have met retailers’ expectations. After two years of lackluster consumer spending, analysts predicted a bigger turnout this Black Friday: as many as 138 million people for the three-day weekend compared with 134 million last year, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation. Most forecasts call for up to a 3 percent bump in holiday sales.
“Retailers nationwide have impressed even the most skeptical consumers, offering aggressive prices on a variety of merchandise,” Matthew Shay, president of the NRF, said in a statement Friday. “While Black Friday weekend is only a small piece of the very large holiday pie, holiday retail sales seem to be off to a great start.”
Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail consultant, speculated that the strong traffic stemmed from an abbreviated shopping season. “I wonder if some of this has been pushed to Black Friday because there is one less weekend before Christmas this year,” he said.
With such steep price drops on consumer electronics, he wondered whether retailers would have enough stock to meet demand closer to Christmas. Retailers have been strict in managing their inventory levels, not wanting to overbuy this year, he added. “You might want to get in and buy now,” he said of items such as HDTVs.
Not everyone cheered the wee-hours routine. As she waited for the clock to strike midnight at the Walmart in Kirkwood, Stephanie Peace of Richmond Heights said it wasn’t her idea to go shopping in the darkness. “My sister dragged me here,” she said, as she guarded three pairs of boys pajamas.
She prefers buying her holiday gifts online — as she did on Thanksgiving Day, taking advantage of Black Friday promotions in cyberspace, including free shipping on some items. “So it was the same as if I had bought it in the store, but I didn’t have to use any gas,” she said.
Along with great deals, Black Friday also brings the annual arguments over cutting in line and grappling over door-busters before the appointed time. At the Walmart in Kirkwood, a police officer had to intervene when an irate woman refused to move to the end of a line after she claimed to have been waiting longer than the others but in a different location.
Meanwhile, at least 10 customers at the Best Buy on Lindbergh came outside to find their cars had been towed because they had mistakenly parked in a T-Mobile parking lot that was not clearly marked, KSDK-TV reported. They got saddled with a $335 bill, the station reported, prompting one father to say he would have to return a Playstation 3 he had just purchased for his son.
While the hordes deter some shoppers, others see a welcome challenge. Isaac Bowser began camping outside the Best Buy in Fairview Heights on Monday night — yes, Monday night.
He wanted to make sure he was No. 1 this year, after a disappointing third in line last year. A tent with generator served as his temporary home. His roommate, Jake Meiergerd, 20, joined him on Tuesday. When doors opened at 5 a.m. Friday morning, Bowser picked up an Xbox 360, a 42-inch plasma TV and an assortment of laptops.
Some retail employees applied unique strategies to the challenge, too. For kicks, Chris White, the store manager of the Kohl’s in Crestwood, wore a pedometer this year. By 1:30 p.m., he had already logged about 7.5 miles, he said, mostly circulating at the front of the store: “We were laughing that I would probably end up walking about 10 miles within the same 50 feet.”