Throngs of South Floridians are shopping at local stores for Black Friday deals, coping with the crowds and long lines.
Stores typically open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving that's named Black Friday, because it's traditionally when they turn a profit for the year.
Holiday shoppers are left asking themselves a question: Deal with the crowds now or later? But early Friday shopping turned out to be the choice for many.
“I say it is part of tradition,” said shopper Margaret Chabat. “We’ve been doing it for years.”
When shopper Luis Loli was asked whether he planned his Thanksgiving around Black Friday, he replied, “Doesn’t everybody?”
Some deal-seekers said they felt a sense of camaraderie while standing in line with others.
“We met some guys on line, so we were working as a team,” Simon Smith said. “We all came in. I got one, my wife got one, and the other girl got one.”
At Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise, some people sat on the floor to rest after hours of shopping, their shopping bags and carts full of items beside them. One shopper rested his head on his arms as he sat on a bench.
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Elsewhere in South Florida, come customers were lined up at midnight: About 1,000 people reportedly were in line for the Best Buy midnight opening.
After testing how shoppers would respond to earlier hours last year, stores such as Target and Toys R Us this year opened as early as Thanksgiving evening.
It is unclear how many shoppers were drawn to the earlier openings versus the traditional Black Friday hours.
But according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers conducted this month, about 17 percent planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving, up from 16 percent last year when retailers were testing the earlier hours.
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Meanwhile, 33 percent intended to shop on Black Friday, down one percentage point from last year. Overall, it's estimated that sales on Black Friday will be up 3.8 percent to $11.4 billion this year.
The earlier hours are an effort by stores to make shopping as convenient as possible for Americans, who they fear won't spend freely during the two-month holiday season in November and December because of economic uncertainty.
Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then.
At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites that offer cheap prices and the convenience of being able to buy something from smartphones, laptops and tablet computers from just about anywhere.
That's put added pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season, to give consumers a compelling reason to leave their homes.
That's becoming more difficult: the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion, or about flat with last year's growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.
As a result, brick-and-mortar retailers have been trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores.
Some stores tested the earlier hours last year, but this year more retailers opened their doors late on Thanksgiving or at midnight on Black Friday.
In addition to expanding their hours, many also are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.
"Every retailer wants to beat everyone else," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a research firm based in Charleston, S.C. "Shoppers love it."
Meanwhile, other South Florida shoppers had waited outside stores several days before. Xavier Medina said he and his family waited outside the Westchester Best Buy since Monday for a 50-inch LED TV.
"We take turns," the Black Friday veteran said. "People go to work and come back. I'm the one who takes the cold weather."