Stores are welcoming a second wave of shoppers in what has become a two-day kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
The big question: How much the Thanksgiving shopping will hurt Black Friday, which is relinquishing its status as the frenzied start of the holiday shopping season?
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The crowds were thin early Friday morning in parts of the country, but traffic is expected to pick up throughout the day.
One positive sign: Toys R Us and Target executives told The Associated Press shoppers seem to be buying more than just the doorbusters and filling their carts with other items not on sale. That seems to show that lower gas prices and an improving job picture are making shoppers more confident about opening their wallets.
Bridget McNabb of Kansas City, Kansas, stopped at a mostly empty suburban Target around 5:30 a.m. Friday after a solid day of holiday cooking. “I started the dishwasher and came in,” she said.
Her goal was a coffee pot for her niece. But first, the 55-year-old — who said she was “old enough to know better” than to be out so early — stopped at the electronics department.
She was only momentarily disappointed after a store worker told her the $119 TV her husband wanted had sold out the night before.
“I’ll pop online later,” she said.
At a Wal-Mart store near Cincinnati, Vicki Stuhlreyer of West Chester Township was on an all-night shopping marathon with her two children Brad and Madi.
They had been to several stores and malls in search of bargains, and found at the Wal-Mart what Brad wanted for his apartment — a 55-inch TV, a Samsung on sale for $548, 30 percent off.
“It was worth it,” he said of the hours of bargain-hunting. They had breakfast at a nearby Waffle House while waiting for the 6 a.m. TV sale.
Madi was still on a quest for bargains, such as for a new comforter, but hadn’t been able to snag what she was looking for.
They planned to take Brad and his TV home, then decide where else to hit.
“I’m more of endurance shopper,” said Madi, a junior bio premed student. “I’d like to go back out again.”
At the Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora Illinois, the mood was calm Friday morning. Parking spaces were plentiful and lines in many stores short or nonexistent. Some groggy shoppers were still in pajama pants, coffee in hand.
Kimberly States, who was shopping with her 11-year-old daughter, said it was markedly more quiet around 6:30 a.m. Friday than it was the night before, when she made her first trip to the mall to pick up some holiday deals.
“It was a zoo last night around 10 p.m.,” States said. “Now it seems like more of the old folks.”
Last year, sales on Black Friday slumped 13.2 percent to $9.74 billion, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at more than 70,000 stores globally. Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, says it’s still uncertain how stores will fare Friday.
In a fiercely competitive retailing climate, stores have been opening earlier into Thanksgiving. This year, retailers pushed the best deals to Thanksgiving to get shoppers first before they run out of money. That could mean bargain hunters who wanted to keep Thanksgiving sacred will feel disappointed on Friday.
With stores offering more deals earlier in the month, the holiday weekend has become less important. But the period still sets the tone for the shopping season, whose sales are expected to rise 4.1 percent to $611.9 billion. That would be the biggest increase since 2011.
And shoppers certainly were out in full force on Thanksgiving.
There were 500 people in line by the time a Target store in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. And 2,000 rushed in at the Toys R Us in New York City’s Times Square when it opened at 5 p.m. For Macy’s 6 p.m. opening, there were more than 15,000 shoppers outside its New York flagship store, a little more than last year.
Brian Cornell, who became Target’s CEO in August and was at the East Harlem store on Thanksgiving, said shopping traditions have changed.
“It’s been more of a week event,” he told The Associated Press. After luring shoppers with big discounts on TVs, Razor scooters and other items, Target is hoping to bring them back Friday with a 10 percent discount on gift cards, the first time it has cut gift card prices.
Cornell said he was encouraged that shoppers were buying extra items like clothing and home furnishings.
“The baskets are full,” he added.
Hank Mullany, President of Toys R Us’ U.S. business, also noted that shoppers were buying more than just the deep discounts.
He noted that he was pleased with traffic Thanksgiving and the second wave of customers Friday for another set of deals.
“It’s more of a steady stream today,” he added.
AP Writers Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Kansas, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, and Sara Burnett in Aurora, Illinois, contributed to this report.