Black Friday might not be as black this year, as more retailers opened the holiday season on Thursday, or earlier.
Sad to say for Black Friday purists, and there are thousands, spreading out the deals means Friday won’t be the over-the-top experience it’s been in years past.
Stores have evolved elaborate methods to smooth out holiday shopping. Some stores offered special deals at different times, handed out coupons for the specials to everyone standing in line, guaranteed the availability of some products for a certain amount of time, and had store employees and police patrol the lines to keep order. And, of course, stores have been pushing Black Friday specials online the whole week.
But the old camp-out-in-the-bone-chilling-cold spirit was still alive Thursday, especially once darkness fell and temperatures dropped.
Standing outside of the east-side Kohl’s, about fourth in line, was a chilled Diane Sipes and her daughter Danielle Griffitt, who was celebrating her 18th birthday.
Sipes said this was her 20th year shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this year was tame. She’s seen yelling and shouting, stampedes, people run over, even fights.
The longest she’d ever spent in a line, she said, was 36 hours one year at Best Buy to get a SpongeBob Special Edition Gameboy.
But this is her last year, she said.
“I’m getting too old, the aches and pains,” she said.
Danielle said she remembers her mother disappearing for a couple of days every Christmas.
“I was spoiled,” she said. “She’d come back and say ‘You better love me.’ ”
On the other side of the spectrum was Paige Alexander, standing about 85th in the check out line inside Kohl’s. It was about 25 minutes after the store opened.
This was her first year, and she said she was dismayed at how many people got in, got their items and got in line ahead of her. Black Friday prices are darn good, she said, but it was still frustrating.
“You work for what you get,” she said. “There’s a price.”
There’s no doubt the stores’ strategy is having an effect.
Brother and sister Jonathan Hughes and Christiana Hughes of Wichita were first in line at the west-side Best Buy. By 6 p.m. when the store opened for its first set of Black Friday deals, about 300 people had lined up behind them.
“For me, it’s mainly about the dollars,” Jonathan Hughes said. “But when you’re waiting in line like this, you get to meet a lot of people, too.”
Last year, the store opened just once, at midnight. Those were harsher conditions than Thursday, and yet the line was twice as long, all the way to Dugan Avenue.
Farther down the shopping center, outside the Office Depot, was Penny Bradfield of Wichita.
Office Depot was opening at 8 p.m. She was camped out with chairs, scarves, heavy sweatshirts, coats and blankets.
This evening was a piece of cake compared to camping out overnight, which she has done in the past. Black Friday offers great deals and a great side benefit:
“You can only stand your family so long,” she said, with a laugh.
More than a dozen major retailers from Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving Day this year as they fought to keep up with competitors who kept opening earlier. They’ve also pushed discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November.
Last year, the Thanksgiving openings robbed sales from Black Friday. Thursday sales were $810 million last year, up 55 percent from the previous year, while Friday sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion. Black Friday was still the biggest shopping day last year.
Stores are trying to get shoppers to buy in an economy that’s still challenging. Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion during the last two months of the year. But ShopperTrak now forecasts that bricks-and-mortar stores will see 10 percent fewer shoppers during November and December than in 2012 as the Internet pulls people away.
Best Buy store manager Jason Jones, who has worked the past four Black Fridays at the west store, said this year feels less frantic than past years.
“There’s definitely a shift in the pattern,” he said, noting the multiple opening times and the extensive online deals this week. Still, there were a lot of people in front of his store, clutching their coupons and cellphones, and shivering.
“They want to feel it,” he said of the merchandise. Then looked down the line. “And, it’s the experience, right?”
Contributing: The Associated Press