Shoppers find discounts as retailers start Black Friday early

News-DemocratNovember 27, 2013 

With only 27 shopping days left till Christmas, some local consumers have already found discounts before the sales begin Thursday and early Friday.

"We try to shop early," said Shirley McDonald of East St. Louis. "We go everywhere."

McDonald's daughter, Lashanda McDonald, said sometimes you have to shop early because a good deal is not as easy to find.

"The new PlayStation 4, my daughter wants that, and it came out and after the first day, they sold a million of them," she said. The video game console was launched Nov. 15.

According to a survey by digital coupon website RetailMeNot.com, many consumers were able to find deep discounts in September and October. According to the website's data, 62 percent of consumers surveyed said they start shopping for Christmas on or before Thanksgiving Day while 47 percent of shoppers said they will be traveling to stores early Friday morning.

"Overall, we're finding Black Friday is still a really big day for retailers," said senior editor Trae Bodge. "More consumers believe it provides major savings."

This year, retailers are more concerned with the shorter shopping season. Thanksgiving Day falls six days later this year than last year, so there is a smaller window to hit up consumers with day-after-Thanksgiving sales that until a few years ago have traditionally been reserved for the day after the holiday, better known as "Black Friday."

But most major retailers have recently broken with tradition and have opened on Thanksgiving. This year, Macy's, J.C Penney, Target, Kohl's and Sears have all announced 8 p.m. openings Thursday evening. Walmart will open at 6 p.m. and Kmart will be open all day long beginning at 6 a.m.

According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, more than 35 million shopped on Thanksgiving night last year, up from the 29 million who did the year before. Almost 89 million shopped the following Friday.

The federation expects holiday retail sales to increase 3.9 percent compared to last year.

However, Bodge said most consumers are still being conservative with their discretionary spending.

"More are working than last year, but I don't think there's been a huge economic turnaround because they still feel bruised after living through the recession," she said.

More shoppers are also turning to layaway to make the holidays more affordable. More retailers have been rolling out this old-fashioned alternative which allows consumers to buy merchandise but pay for it later while the retailers holds on to the item until the buyer pays off the debt owed along with a handling fee.

O'Fallon resident Marc Ellington said using layaway has been better than using a credit card.

"It's the opposite of a credit card, I think," Ellington said. "You plan ahead of time and then you make the payments leading up to the event, as opposed buying on the credit card and then paying it off afterwards. It makes it nice instead of having to come up with a few hundred dollars all at once to get gifts for people."

Collinsville resident Andrea O'Brien said she has also taken advantage of this option.

"I wish there were more stores that had layaway," she said.

Video games and electronics such as computer tablets and cellphones are again expected to be on many wish lists this year. The National Retail Federation predicts that apparel and pop culture items like the computerized Furby toy will popular among children this year, but kids are also asking for electronics.

"My kids are wanting cellphones and those Kindle tablets," O'Brien said.

The federation also expects gift cards to be a popular option as gift card giving has steadily increased during the holiday season since 2009. That year, consumers purchased $23.6 billion in gift cards. Last year, that figure increased to $28.7 billion.

The crowd that forms every Thanksgiving weekend at St. Clair Square is like no other, said 13-year mall employee Tina Durham. She has worked for the past five years at Auntie Anne's Pretzels at the mall's Food Court, where she has witnessed the long lines and throng of shoppers.

"It's pretty busy for us," Durham said. "We have a lot of customers. They are all outside of the store and it's very hard to get all of their orders."

But not all shoppers go after these early bird deals because these steep discounts come at the price: Congested parking lots, crowded stores and lots of waiting.

"I don't want to go and wait in the lines," said Maryville resident Tina Dus.

"There's just so many people and too many lines," O'Brien said. "Everybody's bumping into each other trying to get the same item."

But that has never kept Shirley and Lashanda McDonald away. Although they have already shopped earlier in the season, they are ready to return to the stores after they've finished their Thanksgiving meals and will probably come back for seconds early Friday morning.

"Oh, we're going," Shirley said. "We went last year and it was crazy. But it was fun."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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