More stores offering ‘Black Friday’ deals earlier, on Thanksgiving

For some shoppers, the notion of staying up into the wee hours of the morning to find the best deals of the season sounds like a rush.

But for those on the retail side of things, the Friday after Thanksgiving can be the most stressful day of the year.

“You always hear some of those stories on Black Friday with some retailer where somebody gets stampeded or somebody gets hurt or people are fighting over some of the doorbusters, so we are really focusing on making a fun and very safe shopping day for our guests,” said Eric Schultz, hardlines manager for the Super Target near 21st and Greenwich Road.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, known among retailers as Black Friday, is one of the largest days for retail in the U.S., according to the National Retail Federation.

Last year, the NRF reported that a record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 212 million the year before.

The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 that weekend, with total spending reaching an estimated $52.4 billion.

One of the most stressful parts for retailers is getting ready for it, which takes weeks or months.

“Just all that prep work is probably the worst,” Schultz said. “Once the day gets here, it’s not that bad. It’s like, ‘It’s all done. This is easy.’ ”

Stores begin receiving inventory early and have to organize signage so sale items are properly labeled. This year, Schultz’s store will repeat what it did last year by letting groups of 100 into the store at a time.

“That way we don’t have a stampede of everyone trying to go into the store,” Schultz said.

The sheer volume of people can cause a challenge – and a chuckle.

Gordon Wright, market manager for Wichita-area Walmart stores, has seen people slide across the floor to snag an item during his 25 years with the company.

“To me one of the most amazing things is we’ll have a bath towel on blitz – a $2 white bath towel – and at 9 o’clock at night, there will be 100 people surrounding that towel display. And it’s just, once we open that, people are diving in to grab bath towels versus a 42-inch TV.

“You never know which item is going to be hot.”

His advice to shoppers is to plan ahead and get there early.

Planning “is as important for us as it is for them,” Wright said. “You’ll get somebody who will park a family member in a Walmart store all day Thanksgiving, and the sale doesn’t start until 8 o’clock at night.”

Julie White of Wichita is an administrative assistant for First Mennonite Brethren Church who has been shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving for more than 20 years.

“We can’t break tradition now,” White said.

“I’ve seen everything from the person behind me in line winning a big ticket item like the $500 shopping spree at Target … and I’ve seen people fight over $2 Barbies.”

But fair warning to those with claustrophobia:

“Thousands will go to the store,” said Mike Kurtz, store manager for Walmart at NewMarket Square. “This store will be packed. There won’t be an inch of walking space.”

“They’re like at a rock concert and want to get to the front of the stage. People will slide side to side and make themselves half of their size in order to fit through because they want to get to that piece of merchandise,” Kurtz said.

Gander Mountain store manager Todd Barker has worked in retail for 25 years and said most shoppers come with a great attitude.

“For me, it’s probably one of the funnest days of the year because all you’re doing is helping customers. … For us the day goes by fast,” Barker said.

His biggest tip for shoppers and those working retail is to have patience.

“It’s typical that something always goes haywire, weather or register issues or something, but you’ve got to be flexible,” he said.

Earlier openings

Traditionally, holiday sales are kicked off on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when millions of shoppers from coast to coast flood retail stores early in the morning.

But now, more and more stores are opening on Thanksgiving night, and retailers think the earlier openings help with crowd control.

This is the third year Gander Mountain has had hours on Thanksgiving Day.

Along with earlier opening times, several stores are moving toward doorbusters throughout the night. Some retailers give out tickets for doorbusters while shoppers wait in line.

Irma Kidd, a retired teacher in Wichita, said she and her family have shopped on the Friday after Thanksgiving since 2001. They make matching T-shirts and have worn Santa hats so they don’t lose each other in the hustle.

“People are just in general crazy, I guess, for being out that time of day,” Kidd said. “Even though it sounds crazy, try it; you might like it. We got hooked.”

However, she’s not fond of the earlier opening times.

“I really wish some of them wouldn’t open Thanksgiving,” Kidd said. “It isn’t going to change our plans, though. We’ll probably go, but not too early.”

White said she and her shopping buddies are still formulating their plan.

Her group of about five to 10 people will likely shop stores through Thursday night, into Friday morning, meet for breakfast, and then hit still more stores.

Her secret to a successful shopping day is planning and having a good attitude.

“Don’t expect to get everything on your list. It’s a bonus if you do,” White said. “Just be courteous and polite to everybody and make it a good time.”

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