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TMCNet:  Thanksgiving openings, online shopping take edge off Black Friday

[November 26, 2012]

Thanksgiving openings, online shopping take edge off Black Friday

Nov 24, 2012 (The Kansas City Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The creep of holiday shopping into Thanksgiving Day has taken the edge off Black Friday craziness.

Shoppers still flocked to stores Friday, but lines weren't as long and shoppers weren't scrambling as much for parking spaces as in previous years.

Many had also been out the day before. Shoppers formed long lines for 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night door-busters at Sears and Kmart, and 9 p.m. at Target. Macy's and Kohl's opened at midnight, Gordmans and Cabela's at 5 a.m. Friday, and Stein Mart at 6 a.m.

Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- has been the official start of the holiday shopping season for decades. But with more retailers opening on Thanksgiving and even offering holiday deals earlier in the week, shoppers are spreading out their shopping and mall visits.

Nonetheless, stores were plenty busy Friday. Sam's Club in Overland Park had a rush for its 7 a.m. Friday opening, fueling customers with free coffee, hot chocolate, fruit and povitica. A Sprint store in Overland Park also had a line at 7:30 a.m., and by 10 a.m. the parking lot at Leawood's Town Center Plaza was nearly full, with cars waiting to enter on 119th Street.

Raytown resident Doretta Martin's Black Friday started at 5 a.m. at Wal-Mart but turned into an unexpectedly manageable morning.

"All the crazy people were there at 8" Thursday night, Martin said. "By the time we got there today, everything was calmed down." Martin, her sister, mom and fiance made it to JCPenney at Summit Fair in Lee's Summit before breakfast. Most of the store clerks had donned Santa hats, and the register lines were moving well.

"This is the fastest Black Friday we've done in a long time," Martin said. "And we got most of the stuff we wanted." By spreading out hours, retailers are trying to make shopping more convenient for Americans they fear won't spend freely because of economic uncertainty. Surveys show shoppers are worried about joblessness and the tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal.

Many Americans also are now accustomed to shopping on websites with smartphones, laptops and tablet computers. So brick-and-mortar stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season, are trying harder to get consumers out of their homes.

The National Retail Federation estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion, below last year's 5.6 percent growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.

In addition to expanding hours, many brick-and-mortar retailers are offering free layaway and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals, and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.

According to surveys by America's Research Group in Charleston, S.C., 29.5 percent of Americans said they would be out shopping on Thanksgiving night, and on Black Friday.

"Every retailer wants to beat everyone else," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group. "Shoppers love it." Dylan Storts, 15, and his sister Josee Storts, 14, of Leawood went out at midnight Thursday just for the experience. They were back at it at 7 a.m. Friday with their mother Sherri Black for some serious shopping.

"We've been to Victoria's Secret, Macy's and now we're going to Dick's" Sporting Goods, Black said. "I like that they make the times more available." Black Friday traffic also seemed light this year to Heather and Edward Ball of Knob Noster, Mo., who were picking out her presents at the Dillard's in Independence Center. She works in retail and had gotten off duty at 8 a.m.

"It's not a big bum rush. People are spreading it out more," Heather Ball said.

Though Heather usually experiences Black Friday as an employee, Edward said he had been out shopping the two previous years.

"The traffic is probably a third of what I was expecting," he said.

Braving the chilly wind at the Legends Outlets Kansas City in Kansas City, Kan., Jennifer Anderson, 36, and her daughter Cassidy, 11, had come up with family from Emporia, Kan., to celebrate Thanksgiving with relatives and do some shopping. Mother and daughter arrived about 10:30 a.m.

"We don't do early morning," Anderson said. "We didn't want to fight crowds and stand in line." Economic uncertainty is still keeping consumers conservative, with many sticking to the same holiday budgets as in 2011.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, said TVs and tablets were the most coveted items, although in limited supply. But the $10-and-under deals were a siren call to consumers -- coffee makers, toasters, toaster ovens, griddles and hand-held vacuums were all gobbled up at those cut-rate prices.

Many consumers also relied on savings, trying to avoid adding to credit card bills.

"If your pockets are empty, you do the best you can," said Gary O'Neal, a Lee's Summit resident making the rounds Friday.

By 9 a.m., he had been to Westlake, Target, Best Buy, Lowe's and Macy's, and was heading to Verizon and Wal-Mart. O'Neal, however, wasn't spending a lot of money or time shopping. O'Neal is retired with five in college, so budgeting is a must.

"That's why I'm broke," O'Neal said.

Katy Hamilton was spending some birthday money at the Dillard's in Independence Center with her mom, Kerry, who had been out earlier. There's more shopping ahead for the Blue Springs residents, but their budget sets the limits.

"I saved money all year to do my Christmas shopping," Kerry Hamilton said. "When it's gone, I'm done." Bargains also seemed harder to come by this year, said Tracy Webber of Pleasant Hill and a veteran of 22 Black Fridays. She isn't spending much this year, focusing more on a grandbaby on the way.

She had picked up two stuffed animals at the ToyZam in the Independence Center, where she shopped with friends and relatives.

"Everything's getting more expensive, but wages aren't going up," said Webber's daughter, Emily.

Donna Slaven, 75, of Overland Park, started her shopping at 6 a.m. with visits to JCPenney and Barnes & Noble. She had quite a list with 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"We're trying to get everything on sale," she said, pausing in the bustling main corridor of the Oak Park Mall in Overland Park.

Paul Hocker, 45, and Sharon Cannon, 40, a couple from Kansas City, were also patrolling Oak Park Mall, but both already had done a lot of shopping online.

"I'm going out to see what's in the stores and see if the deals are as good as Cyber Monday," Hocker said, referring to the Monday-after-Thanksgiving official kickoff of online holiday shopping. "I've probably gotten at least 60 percent of my shopping done online already." Still, many shoppers were splurging on Black Friday deals for themselves or their family -- widescreen TVs, the latest smartphones and apparel were especially popular purchases.

Cannon was holding a bag with a Hello Kitty doll she had assembled at the Build-A-Bear Workshop in Oak Park Mall. It was a gift to herself.

She was thankful for having a good job at Farmers Insurance and felt positive. Cannon estimated online shopping would cover 80 percent of her purchases this year.

"I've been blessed, and I'm not going to skimp," she said.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Small Business Saturday, with shoppers encouraged to support their locally owned retailers today. Then comes Cyber Monday shopping, although that, too, is now spreading out more over the holidays as online retailers send out deals through emails and texts.

Once past the official kickoff of the season, retailers can't slack off on the deals leading up to Christmas, said Beemer of America's Research Group. Otherwise, consumers will "hibernate" until the last few days before Christmas for deals they expect will beat Black Friday's offerings -- 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent off.

"We're calling this 'Christmas Hibernation,' and it could be the first-ever as well," Beemer said.

The Associated Press and The Star's Mark Davis and Kevin Collison contributed to this report.

___ (c)2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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