LITTLE ROCK Throngs of shoppers in Little Rock were out hunting deals early Friday despite “Black Friday” promotions on the Internet and the fact that some stores had opened on Thanksgiving Day.
Some merchants, eager to attract more shoppers after several years of lackluster growth, opened earlier this year to get a jump on the vital Christmas shopping season.
The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally called Black Friday because it’s when some retailers begin to turn a profit for the year.
The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, expects overall sales in November and December to rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion — about the same growth as last year.
The trade group forecast that shoppers will, on average, spend $749.51 on gifts, decor and greeting cards, little changed from the $740.57 they spent last year. The forecast is based on a survey by research firm BIGinsight.
“We’ve seen this pattern of cautious optimism all year, and despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate with friends and family,” Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation president and chief executive officer, said when the survey results were released.
Of those polled, 52.3 percent said the economy would affect their spending plans this year, down from 62.2 percent in last year’s survey.
More than half said they would shop online, a new high for the annual poll. The National Retail Federation’s digital division, shop.org, forecasts that online Christmas sales will grow by $96 billion, a 12 percent increase.
About 7 a.m. Friday, Donna Hughes, 54, was at the Target store on Chenal Parkway in Little Rock with daughters Aimee Hubmann, 29, and Allison Thorton, 31.
Hughes said she has shopped on Black Friday since before her daughters were born.
The Target stop was the sixth store they had visited since they started their spree at Kohl’s shortly after that store’s midnight opening.
“We do this every year,” Hughes said. “It’s kind of a tradition for us.”
Hughes and her daughters said they didn’t give up their Thanksgiving celebration to stand in line outside Wal-Mart and Target, which opened Thursday at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively.
“We didn’t sacrifice our family time for any merchandise,” Hubmann said.
Thorton echoed her mom. “It’s about the tradition for us.”
“I would not do this if I had to be alone,” Hubmann said. “We make memories.”
Research by Ryan Levesque of Austin, Texas, who runs several marketing firms — including LTP Marketing LLC — found that two-thirds of those polled said retailers had “gone too far” this year pushing Black Friday sales into Thursday. The sentiment was even more pronounced among the baby-boom generation, at 79 percent.
“It seems like they’re earlier and earlier,” Levesque said. “Do the dishes and wait in line is what some people will be doing this year,” he said earlier this week.
Only half of the 18-24 age bracket objected to the Thanksgiving Day openings. But Levesque noted that the boomer generation has considerably more spending power than does the younger group.
Employees at the earlyopening stores said it’s not always sales that draw shoppers in on Black Friday.
“For some people this is tradition,” Daymond Smalls, sales representative at the Chenal Parkway Target, said Thursday.
The line of people waiting to get into the Best Buy on Chenal Parkway before midnight Thursday snaked around to neighboring FaithSpring Church, which shares a building with the electronics store, said Tara Prince, a sales representative for the company.
She said many people were in line to buy Toshiba 40-inch TVs that were on sale for $179.99 — $240 off the regular retail price.
Best Buy also offered many of its Black Friday deals online. Prince said she didn’t think the Internet deals influenced the size of the crowd.
“We were super, super busy when we opened this morning,” she said. “A lot of people do Black Friday as a tradition, so I don’t think it [the Internet] has a lot of effect.”
Ammy Theobald of Maumelle, who was at Best Buy to purchase a new television, said she took advantage of some of the online deals.
Theobald, 44, said the line outside the Kohl’s in Sherwood was so long when she got there at 1 a.m. that she bought a silverware set from Kohl’s using her daughter’s cell phone rather than deal with the crowd.
“I sat in the parking lot and ordered it online with free shipping,” she said.
Protests at some Wal-Mart stores around the country, organized by union-backed groups to object to employee compensation and working conditions, failed to deter shoppers as the retailer reported larger Black Friday crowds than last year.
About a dozen protesters stood outside the Wal-Mart store at Bowman Road and Chenal Parkway on Friday. Members of Occupy Little Rock and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union handed fliers to motorists entering the parking lot, urging them to tell Wal-Mart it is “wrong to silence its workers.”
Last week, Wal-Mart sought an injunction from the National Labor Relations Board to stop the protests, but the agency said Friday that it was a complex issue and no ruling would be made until next week.
Front Section, Pages 1 on 11/24/2012
Print Headline: Some cut short Thanksgiving, get in sales line