Anders Kullman and his girlfriend flew in to New York City from Stockholm to shop at Macy’s on Black Friday for the tenth year in a row, and by 3 a.m. he was inside the Herald Square store buying clothes.
“It started off with the bargains, but now it’s just for fun,” said the 47-year-old, who works for Hewlett-Packard. “We are not saving any money, coming over here shopping.”
He was among the tourists joining in on the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, which with more stores opening on Thanksgiving Day is now firmly a two-day event.
And that’s exactly how three medical professionals — Naveet Panesar, 25, and 24-year-old Dalisha Bharti, medical residents who live in Queens, and Simar Kaur, a 26-year-old dental student — planned their shopping spree. They started at 10 p.m. Thursday and were still at it Friday morning.
“Shopping, taking rest in between, eating and eating and then going back again and shopping,” Panesar said.
All three women bought coats as well as jeans and jewelry.
“A little bit of everything which completes the entire list,” Kaur said. “One of this, one of this, one of this.”
The Adobe Systems Inc.’s 2014 Digital Index Online Shopping Forecast found that some of the season’s best deals would be online on Thanksgiving Day, but such predictions didn’t deter shoppers determined to be the first in the stores.
Raquila Wilkinson, 34, arrived at a Target in New York at 2 a.m. — more than 15 hours before its 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day opening.
"It's a tradition," Wilkinson said of shopping on the holiday weekend. "I look forward to it."
There were 500 people in line by the time the Target's doors opened; another 200 people rushed into a Toys "R" Us in Times Square when it opened at 5 p.m.
The scene was similar at the Dolphin Mall in Miami, Florida, were up to 800 people were waiting outside Thanksgiving evening.
“Shoes, shoes, and shoes,” said Andrea Brillante of the items she was looking to buy on sale.
And Edward Alvarez’s holiday shopping strategy was to get it all done.
“You make it simple to do it all in one day,” he said.
A survey by Nerd Wallet, the personal finance website, raised questions about some of the Black Friday bargains. It found that many of the same deals are offered year to year, which might not matter for luggage or Christmas trees but could mean less than good buys for year-old electronics or appliances, the web sites notes.
Doubts aside, 61 percent of Americans or more than 140 million shoppers said they would be in the stores or online over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. Holiday sales are expected to grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion, according to the federation.
Record online sales of $1.35 billion were expected on Thanksgiving Day, an increase of 27 percent over last year, according to the Adobe System's forecast. Black Friday meanwhile could be the fastest growing online sales day at $2.48 billion, a rise of 15 percent.
Demand forced Best Buy to shut down its website Friday morning for an extended period. Would-be shoppers found this message posted on the site: "We're Sorry, BestBuy.com is currently unavailable. Check back soon."
Best Buy blamed the outage on a spike in mobile traffic.
This is a key time for retailers, which make about 20 percent of their annual sales during the season.
The sales are meant to snap consumers out of any tendency to put off shopping until the last minute, said Priya Raghubir, the chair of the marketing department at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business in New York City.
“They give you a reason to get out in the cold and start spending money,” she said.
“Consumers love getting a deal or at least feeling they’ve got a deal, feeling smart, feeling that they are in control,” she said.
At a Target store in Salem, New Hampshire, Fred Trecartin of Dracut, Massachusetts, waited for more than an hour on Thanksgiving Day.
"I had to get the three TVs, 40 inches for $119," he said. "It’s insane.”
Asked if it was worth it, he said, "Uh, yeah but my wife’s still in there....I might have to send the cavalry out soon.”
With the most ardent shoppers jamming store aisles Thursday night, Friday morning was quieter in many places than in past years. Some 25.6 million of the weekend's consumers were expected to be shopping on Thanksgiving Day; additionally 95.5 million said they would be looking for bargains on Black Friday, according to the National Retail Federation.
At the Westfarms shopping center in West Hartford, Connecticut on Friday, Marissa Stafford of Simsbury said she had saved up to $400 so far.
"It's all organzied," she said. "We have our coupons, our lists, so you've learned over the years you have to be prepared. Yes, we've been doing this tradition for 10 years now."
Best Buy was among the retail chains that were open by 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Other included Toys R Us and J.C. Penney. Target, Sears, Kohl's and Macy's opened at 6 p.m. and Kmart was keeping its doors open for 42 hours straight. Radio Shack opened at 8 a.m., however, after workers complained about the early hour, the electronics retailer decided to close between noon and 5 p.m.
J.C. Penney spokesman Joey Thomas said that when chain opened on Thanksgiving for the first time last year, the response from customers was overwhelmingly positive. Giveaways and other activities are planned to show staff members that their work is appreciated, Thomas said.
“Additionally, local store leaders recognize the importance of work-life balance when staffing regular and seasonal associates, and give priority to those who volunteer for holiday shifts,” Thomas said. “Hourly associates will receive time and a half for hours worked on Thanksgiving Day.”
Macy’s noted that there were 15,000 people in line for its Herald Square store in Manhattan last year at 8 p.m., a record. The large majority of shifts were filled voluntarily, according to Holly Thomas, a spokeswoman for the stores.
In contrast, Nordstrom remained closed on Thanksgiving.
“Over the years, our tradition has been to be closed on Thanksgiving so we are able to unveil our holiday trim the following morning,” said spokesman Dan Evans Jr.
Dismay over the early shopping led 32-year-old Brian Rich of Boise, Idaho, a marketing coordinator at a credit union, to start a Facebook page called “Boycott Black Thursday.”
“The best way to stop this is for everyone to stop shopping on Thanksgiving,” he said.
Twenty-five-year-old Danielle Mesisca quit her job at Kohl’s in New York City rather than work on Thanksgiving. The single mother, who has a day job working for New York City, said she would not object if Black Friday started at midnight or later.
“I feel like working a minimum wage job on a holiday is not worth it,” she said. “Thanksgiving is that one day your entire family gets together to spend time together. I shouldn't have to be forced to work and miss time with my family so other people can shop.”
Kohl’s did not immediately respond for comment.
With sales beginning earlier, and uncertainty about when the best deals are to be found, Black Friday does offer one guarantee: long lines of other shoppers, Raghubir said.
“But yes there will certainly be the buzz also,” she said. “You’ll be with all these other shoppers who are also very excited at having got a deal.”
That excitement is one reason 28-year-old Sy Paulson, a general manager at a Best Buy store in New York City said he did not mind working over the holiday. He typically has his meal the weekend before or a few days afterward and works both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.
“This is my tenth Black Friday at Best Buy,” he said. “I get a lot of retail adrenaline. It’s a fun time. It kicks off the holiday season.”
In New York City, the Griffin family from West Union, Ohio, was heading into Macy’s around 6:30 a.m. and 9-year-old Emma was looking for just one thing: Santa.
The family had visited three years ago, when Emma just saw him through a window, her mother, 44-year-old Angie Griffin, said.
“She didn’t actually go in and sit on his lap,” Angie Griffin said. “Today she is.”