Black Friday update: An easier start to shopping season

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Posted: Friday, November 29, 2013 12:00 am

Photos: Black Friday shopping

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Just as in years past, Black Friday abounded in doorbusters, door crashers and manager's specials. But one thing was missing this year in many Omaha-area stores: Chaos.

By Friday morning, many deals had already been had. That's because a number of retailers, including Walmart, Target, J.C. Penney and Younkers, made their deals available Thursday, some as early as 6 p.m. Stores at Westroads and Oak View Malls followed suit, opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, many keeping their doors open throughout the night and into Friday.

Some retailers offered different specials at different hours. Nebraska Furniture Mart was closed Thursday but held a day of holiday specials Wednesday.

The staggering of sales created a prolonged and seemingly less hectic Black Friday shopping schedule for many shoppers.

And it also may have helped retailers, at least the big names.

“The stores with the best doorbusters and all-day sales are the busiest,” Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for NPD Group Inc., said Friday. Walmart, Target, Macy's, Best Buy and Kohl's stores had the best traffic, and J.C. Penney should have a better-than-expected Black Friday as well, he said.

Walmart had already declared the year a success at 6:30 a.m. Friday. From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, Walmart stores processed more than 10 million register transactions in its stores.

“Our Black Friday events were bigger, better, faster, cheaper and safer than ever,” said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. in a statement.

The retailer staggered sales throughout Thursday and Friday, breaking out 21 products and dividing them into three different “events” for Black Friday. It offered promotional pricing on each group of products for one-hour increments. For the first time, customers were also offered wristbands for popular products, allowing them to shop while they waited for deals.

“It was a lot different than last year,” said Nancy Blocker of Columbus, Neb., as she perused hooded sweatshirts at Cabela's in La Vista. “I like it spread out a little more.”

Blocker and her daughter, Savanna, stayed up all night shopping, first in Columbus at Walmart and Penney's and eventually arriving in Omaha, where they visited Westroads Mall.

Becky Allen of Council Bluffs agreed. She began shopping at 5:30 a.m. Friday, first visiting Home Depot, Menards and eventually Westroads, where she snagged an $80 robe on sale for about $26 at Younkers.

“I really like the way that they've done it this year,” Allen said. “Makes the shopping much nicer.”

Melissa Maddox, a University of Nebraska at Omaha student, spent more than 10 years working at a Walmart in Florida. She said it doesn't matter which day retailers kick off Black Friday deals. “It's still the same rush. It's just spread out over a longer period.”

Rather than a rush of shoppers once the doors opened, many retailers were expecting to see traffic fluctuate throughout the day, with waves expected upon stores' openings and before and after the 11 a.m. Nebraska-Iowa football game.

That doesn't mean there weren't lines.

Westroads' senior general manager, Jim Sadler, said Thursday night was orderly and calm, but many stores saw lines, including Younkers, Penney's, Victoria's Secret and Dick's Sporting Goods. Toys R Us had a 150-yard-long line just as it was opening at 5 p.m. Thursday.

And at the Cabela's store in La Vista, a line of about 1,000 people wrapped around the store before its 5 a.m. opening Friday, with the first person in line claiming a spot Tuesday afternoon. “We're having one heck of a day,” said Erin Natalicchio, Cabela's marketing manager. Hot items this year, she said, included a small refrigerator that looked like a gun vault, gun safes and camouflage recliners.

At Nebraska Furniture Mart, hundreds of shoppers waited outside for the 6 a.m. opening Friday.

Drawing out the holiday shopping kickoff over a few days might have helped keep lines more manageable, resulting in lighter traffic Friday, said Jim Cahill, loss prevention general manager at the Furniture Mart. He said the lines were “a lot thinner” than in previous years.

“I think before this season, people had to pick and choose between stores,” Cahill said.

Still, one group of campers outside the Mart plugged in a coffee machine to make its overnight wait a bit more tolerable.

First in line was 18-year-old Drew Combs of Omaha, who arrived around 10 p.m. Wednesday. He originally came for an Xbox One, but some friends managed to find one for him Thursday at Walmart. After the doors opened, Combs and friend Mike Casper, 18, weaved through a steady stream of shoppers to pick up items their families had phoned in.

Shoppers still challenged Mart staff to keep inventory on the floor. “We have about 80 people restocking every 10 minutes all day throughout the store,” said Irv Blumkin, chairman of Nebraska Furniture Mart.

At Westroads, traffic tapered off around 2 a.m Friday, but it was expected to pick up again after 6 a.m when all mall stores opened. “I think it will be, quite frankly, more enjoyable,” Sadler said of the Friday shopping experience.

John Gatluak of Omaha made his way into the Walmart Supercenter at 72nd and Pacific Streets shortly before 9 a.m. Friday to catch the tail end of the store's third and final promotional sale event. Less than 12 hours earlier, Gatluak was scouting different deals at the Walmart in Papillion five miles to the south. With open parking spaces aplenty Friday morning, it was a welcome change.

“Papillion was packed last night,” he said. “I came here from Nebraska Furniture Mart (this morning) and I was surprised it wasn't as busy as I thought it would be.”

Mary Kinney of Omaha also expected a more raucous Friday morning crowd. She was pleasantly surprised to find no problems entering the fray despite trading the comfort of her bed for the frigid trip to the Mart. “I got up at 2:30 this morning and thought about getting in line, but I decided to come later, and I still got a spot right out front,” Kinney said.

However, some shoppers were missing the adrenaline rush that comes with crowding into a store early on Friday morning.

Mother and daughter Janice and Kim Simmons, who have been shopping on Black Friday together for 20 years, said they miss the days when all stores opened on Friday. “We like it like it used to be,” Janice Simmons said. “This is too much.”

The pair started shopping at midnight Thursday and, by 5 a.m. Friday, had already visited Target, Shopko, Kohl's, Penney's, Old Navy and Younkers. They didn't wait in line anywhere, but “all the stuff we wanted was there anyway,” Janice Simmons said.

Teresa Delatorre of Omaha agreed. “It's not the same,” she said around 6 a.m. Friday as she shopped women's clothes at Penney's. “It's kind of disappointing. There's no adrenaline rush.”

Other shoppers made a point to avoid stores that opened Thursday as an act of protest.

Bryan Clark of Gretna said he, his son, brother and father lined up outside Scheels around 6:45 a.m. for the stores' 7 a.m. opening. By 8 a.m., the group was shopping at Cabela's, where Clark's brother had found a good deal on a meat smoker.

“I appreciate the stores that didn't open on Thanksgiving,” Clark said.

Westroads' Sadler said he wasn't sure what mall retailers would do next year, noting that the Westroads' anchor tenants were the driving force behind a Thanksgiving opening. They'll have to weigh sales against the cost of staffing for so many hours.

“I don't know if it'll work out for the retailers. They'll have to decide if it was worth it for them.”

This report includes material from Bloomberg News.

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