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Early start, online boom drive Black Friday sales

2:18 PM, Nov 23, 2012   |    comments
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Retailers were breathlessly ringing up purchases early and often as Black Friday got off to a roaring start with record electric online sales numbers and lines at brick-and-mortar stores.

As of noon ET, Black Friday online sales were up 13.1% over last year, according to IBM Smarter Commerce, which uses its IBM Benchmark to track the websites of more than 500 leading U.S. retailers.

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Smarter Commerce reports that the number of shoppers using their phones to visit retail sites was closing in on 30%. And while the iPad ruled "couch commerce" on Thanksgiving night, the iPhone was winning in stores today. IPhone traffic was at 11.4% of total online traffic at retail sites, versus 8.9% for iPads.

To compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores tried to make shopping as convenient as possible for consumers; many opened earlier Thanksgiving night to draw in shoppers who were unwilling to wait until midnight or the early-morning hours on Friday.

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This year, Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. Sears, which didn't open on Thanksgiving last year, also opened at 8 p.m. Target opened at 9 p.m., three hours earlier than last year.

Toys R Us shoppers, at least those lining up at the retailer's Times Square store, were all smiles in anticipation of the Black Friday sale, says CEO Jerry Storch, who greeted customers at the store Thursday night.

"It was the happiest and most fun crowd I've ever seen on Black Friday," he says. Once inside, shoppers snatched up the Tabeo kids tablet for $149.99 - they were "flying off the shelf," Storch says. Lego products, the Wii U and the Skylanders: Giants video game were also going fast, he says.

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Walmart rang up almost 10 million transactions through midnight as customers picked up bicycles, TVs and video games. That's almost 5,000 items per second, the company said.

At a Walmart in Chantilly, Va., Dan Ziewlinski was having his first Black Friday shopping experience and said it was a little overwhelming. He brought his son, Jack, 11, to help him score a 32" Emerson TV for Christmas.

"It's a surprise," says Ziewlinski, 47, covering Jack's ears. The two headed over to Walmart after cleaning up Thanksgiving dinner. They decided to buy the TV and an iPad 2.

One group of people benefitting from stores opening earlier last night: those looking to shop today. Lines outside Kmart this morning were much shorter for the 5 a.m. reopening, after the chain closed briefly at 3 a.m. to restock inventory.

"It's a more pleasant Black Friday experience," says Tom Aiello, a division vice president for Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart. "The holiday crowds aren't out en masse..."

Lines at Kmart's 1,000-plus stores across the nation averaged from 400 to 600 shoppers for the 8 p.m. opening last night, falling to about 150 to 200 when stores reopened this morning, Aiello says. Sears traffic surged at 4 a.m. "when the next round of doorbusters kicked in," he says. Last night its stores, which also opened at 8 p.m., had up to 1,000 people in line.

In Rockland County, N.Y., Stu and April Schatz went to the Shops at the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, N.J., which didn't open until 7 a.m. on Black Friday, because they didn't want to deal with the crowds that show up for earlier openings.

"It's so much more civilized going in the morning," said April Schatz, a teacher. "We wanted to enjoy our (Thanksgiving) evening."

Still, malls that opened Friday morning had no shortage of customers. Westfarms in Farmington, Conn., had several hundred people at each entrance when it opened at 6 a.m. Teen apparel and shoes often was the merchandise of choice - several malls reported the longest lines at stores including Hollister, Aeropostale and Foot Locker.

At International Plaza in Tampa, Fla., Urban Outfitters had a line of almost 500 people waiting when the mall opened at 8 a.m.

About 150 of Disney's 220 stores opened at midnight, says Paul Gainer, executive vice president of global Disney Stores. The ones that don't are in malls that can't accommodate the early entrance.

Four years ago, when the chain started the midnight openings, few other stores did. "Now it's really a mall experience where everybody is participating," says Gainer.

Still, Gainer says Disney Stores don't plan to keep pushing back its opening times further into Thanksgiving.

"We feel really good about that midnight opening," he says. The only thing holding the company back from more midnight openings is the fact that many of the malls its stores are in don't open that early.

Not everyone is thrilled with the earlier store openings on Thanksgiving as several retail employee groups are protesting the change.

Employees of retailers including Target, Walmart and Toys R Us have started or signed petitions on for Thanksgiving day off.

A New York City-based, union-backed group of retail workers called Retail Action Project planned protests on Thanksgiving in front of several stores, including Ann Taylor, Forever 21 and others that were opening at midnight on Black Friday and earlier.

"It shows that the companies are not valuing their workers. They're looking to their workers to squeeze out more profits," said Carrie Gleason, director of Retail Action Project.

The holiday shopping season is crucial for retailers and the National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales will rise 4.1% to $586.1 billion this year.

"This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession," NRF CEO Mathew Shay said in a statement.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because it 's when retailers traditionally get out of the red and turn a profit for the year.The NRF estimates that up to 147 million shoppers will visit stores and shop online over the Black Friday weekend.

USA Today

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