(From the New York Times 11-27-04)
Surrounded by hundreds of shoppers grabbing bargain-priced flat-screen television sets and portable music players early yesterday morning, Jill Mulhere was trying to figure out what happened to her shopping cart, heaped with presents, at the Best Buy store in Paramus, N.J. She had paused to look at just one more deal – an Allegro DVD-VCR combination for $59.99 – before joining the long checkout line.
“Somebody actually stole my shopping cart!” Ms. Mulhere said. “I said, ‘That’s it; this place is a zoo.’ ”
Instead of returning home, though, she drove to Circuit City, about a mile away along Route 17, a slow-moving highway lined with strip malls. Circuit City was only slightly less chaotic, but she ended up buying the DVD-VCR player, a Sony, for $134.
“You know,” she said, “my brother asked me at Thanksgiving, ‘Was there really all this Black Friday pandemonium when we were growing up?’ ”
Across the country yesterday, millions of Americans – most of them taking the entire day off from work – rushed into suburban malls, filled downtown shopping streets and department stores and mobbed discount stores everywhere.
Often, they were waving colorful circulars and shopping lists, hungry for the hundreds of bargains promised to those who got there first.
Merchants, eager to lure crowds of buyers wielding credit cards, opened even earlier than last year – in some places well before dawn.
Any specific figures on how much people bought yesterday will not be available until the end of the weekend at the earliest – and maybe not even then. Nonetheless, based on anecdotal evidence and some initial soundings, retailers generally were optimistic about the coming holiday shopping season.
“We’ve never had so many early birds come out for the specials, not in numbers like this,” said Karen MacDonald, a spokesman for Taubman Centers, which owns or manages 22 shopping centers across the country, including the high-end Short Hills mall in New Jersey.
And with just about every store promising an unbeatable deal, the day after Thanksgiving – which had lost its status as the highest spending day of the year a decade ago to the Saturday before Christmas and regained it just last year – looks likely to hang on to the distinction another year.
Not far from Union Square in San Francisco, Pam Donohue, 49, an aide at a senior citizens’ food delivery service, said she was buying the brand items coveted by her two teenagers: Ugg boots, an Ugg black purse and BCBG black shoes. But she was also comparison shopping to get the really big present for this Christmas: a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion desktop computer the girls need for school.
In Chicago, Tammy Jowers, 40, and her family braved a snowstorm Wednesday night, going from their home in Dyersburg, Tenn., to line up in front of Marshall Field’s at 5:30 a.m. “Everybody wants an iPod,” Ms. Jowers said. “Instead of a cruise, we’re getting iPods.”
For this year’s Black Friday – called that because it is the day retailers traditionally expected to break into the black, or profitable territory, for the year – the emphasis was on electronics, according to retailers, analysts and a host of shoppers interviewed yesterday.
Part of the reason, according to pollsters like Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research, a survey firm in Charleston, S.C., was that toy manufacturers had failed to come up with any must-have new toys to compete with the MP3 players, high-definition television sets and heavily promoted new computer games that seemed to be on millions of lists. And no particular articles of clothing were creating much buzz either, retail experts said.
At the Sears stores in the New York region, John Ford, the district manager, said consumer electronics was definitely the top-selling category yesterday. Larry Costello, a national spokesman for Sears, Roebuck, said foot traffic was significantly higher than last year in every major market, probably because Sears tripled its number of sales promotions over last year. The chain gave out $10 gift cards to the first 200 people in line at each store, along with offering early shoppers digital cameras for $49.99 and DVD players for $19.99.
Wal-Mart, by far the nation’s largest retailer, has decided not to release one-day figures for the day after Thanksgiving, as the company did in the past.
“Although we expect to have one of the best days of the year, it’s not fair to use it as a barometer for the whole season,” Karen Burk, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said last night. She added that the company was “cautiously optimistic” for the holidays.
Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, repeated his trade group’s projections for the holiday season: a rise of 4.5 percent over last year, slightly down from the 5.1 percent increase over 2002. This year, pollsters and consultants, in e-mailed predictions, are using words like “respectable” and “decent” to describe expected sales for the 2004 holidays. Ever since 1999, when sales increases reached double-digit levels at most retailers, the industry has been forced to live with much more modest gains.