LINCOLN – The holiday shopping season opened on a brisk note as shoppers swamped stores to scarf up Black Friday bargains at area retail stores.
Some 500 customers formed a line that snaked around the corner of Target at Lincoln Mall before the doors opened at 1 a.m. Friday.
The manager said the store brought in extra personnel to handle the crowds and distribute store “maps” to help customers find what they were looking for.
“We really lucked out,” said the manager, who identified herself only as Stephanie. “It’s been peaceful and there haven’t been any problems. People have actually been thanking us for how orderly it was.”
Hours after the onslaught began, a steady but slower stream of customers was still pushing loaded-up shopping carts out the door with heavily discounted flat-screen TVs, computer tablets and cookware.
“That was a great deal,” said Dawn Baker of Providence as she peeled back a shopping bag hiding a box of non-stick pots and pans. “I got that for $40. You usually can’t find a whole set like that for less than a hundred dollars.”
Gabriela Nunes of North Providence found herself unexpectedly wheeling a 32-inch LED flat-screen out the door. She wasn’t planning on buying a TV yesterday, Nunes said, but when she saw the price, she couldn’t say no.
“It’s a Christmas present for myself,” she said. “I figured I might as well splurge.”
At Sears, a few miles away from the mall at Woonsocket’s Walnut Hill Plaza, the store opened at 12:30 a.m. and workers reported an unusually heavy turnout.
Workers said 135 customers were outside waiting to get in when the doors opened. They quickly snatched up some of the store’s most heavily promoted bargains, including an assortment of flat-screen TVs in different sizes, some as low as $97.
“Most of it sold out in 10 minutes,” an assistant manager in electronics said.
In other states, Black Friday seeped into Thanksgiving as some of the big box stores, including Walmart and Target, opened well before midnight on the holiday, but Rhode Island’s “blue laws” kept that from happening. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, opened as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in states with fewer restrictions, triggering widespread protests from employees. Some consumers aren’t wild about the move, either, but others are all for it.
It remains to be seen whether the controversy hurts Black Friday sales. The National Retail Federation seems more concerned about the timing of Thanksgiving than when stores opened their doors. In a cyclical quirk of the calendar, Thanksgiving couldn’t have possibly fallen any earlier this year – earlier, perhaps, than some shoppers typically get in the spirit for holiday spending.
“Not since 2007 has Thanksgiving come this early, but the calendar creep won’t keep millions of eager holiday shoppers from visiting their favorite stores and websites over Black Friday weekend,” the NRF said.
According to a preliminary Black Friday shopping survey, up to 147 million people plan to shop through the Black Friday weekend, a slight decrease from the 152 million who planned to do so last year, according to the NRF.
“Though the Black Friday tradition is here to stay, there’s no question that it has changed in recent years,” said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation. “It’s critical for retail companies to constantly evolve as consumers do, and right now shoppers want great deals, good value, and convenience – exactly what we’re seeing with this season’s late and early openings, price-matching, layaway, and mobile offerings.”
Black Friday is often viewed as an invention of the big box stores, but online merchants and small businesses have all signed on to distinct campaigns to hold onto their share of the consumer’s shopping dollar. Cyber Monday marks its seventh anniversary next week and is quickly becoming the biggest shopping day of the year for online merchants, according to Shop.org. Meanwhile, independent brick and mortar stores around the country have joined the “Small Business Saturday” campaign, which is celebrating its third anniversary today.
Members of the Northern RI Chamber of Commerce and the Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance have signed onto Small Business Saturday for the first time this year.
While Small Business Saturday may sound, well, small, it was actually launched by a giant of the personal credit industry, American Express. The company promotes supporting small businesses as the civic-minded thing to do.
“You could be helping local entrepreneurs offer more jobs, which in turn invigorate the economy,” said American Express. “As a consumer, you are a key part in helping small businesses thrive.”
If Black Friday has an ominous ring to it, it may be because the first time the phrase was coined it referred to the crash of the stock market in 1869. Black Friday is still about money – not losing it, however, but making it.
In the retail world, Black Friday is the official start of the holiday shopping season, a time of year when sales push merchants out of the red ink on their accounting ledgers and into the black zone of profits. It is often said that Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, but it’s not always true. Sometimes it is, retailers say; other times it lags behind the last Saturday before Christmas.