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story.lead_photo.caption Celeste Russell (left) of New York City and her cousin Shenita Russell of Little Rock shop for a television Friday at the Best Buy on Chenal Parkway in west Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Shoppers were out before dawn in the U.S. for fun and for deals as retailers that have had a tough year were hoping to draw customers to their stores and websites for Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Black Friday has morphed from a single day when people got up early to score limited-quantity bargains into a whole season of deals, so shoppers may feel less need to be out on the day after Thanksgiving. Some love the excitement, even if they've already done some of their shopping online.

Drew Webb and Morgan Bush of Pine Bluff went Black Friday shopping in Little Rock only for Best Buy's Friday door-buster deal: a 55-inch Toshiba TV.

Webb said they had been waiting outside at the front of the line for about an hour.

Bush said it was more like three hours.

When asked if they had other shopping plans, Webb said jokingly, "Our next stop is home."

Shenita Russell of Little Rock, another Black Friday shopper, said it seemed like fewer people this year are up early for the deals.

"More people were out yesterday," Russell said. "Everyone's talking about Thanksgiving shopping."

Her cousin Celeste Russell said that as more stores open on Thanksgiving for a competitive edge, it cuts further into family time.

"Retailers are just trying to one-up each other," said Russell, of New York. "For a lot of people, this is the only time they can afford electronics. ... It takes families away from the traditions of Thanksgiving."

Some shoppers traveled from rural Arkansas to hunt for Black Friday bargains in central Arkansas.

Rosa Bautista, 18, of Warren said her family was on the road to Little Rock by 4:30 a.m. for Park Plaza's 6 a.m. opening. In the past, they visited only stores for Black Friday deals. This season is different, she said.

Now they're more aware of online Christmas sales.

There's no need to go to cosmetics retailers Ulta and Sephora because they're offering similar deals online and at the store, Bautista said.

Analysts at Bain & Co. said they expect online sales leader Amazon will take half of the Christmas shopping season's sales growth. And Amazon is the top destination for people to begin Christmas shopping, according to a September study by market research firm NPD Group.

"I buy pretty much what I can on Amazon," said Lam Huynh, who was at Macy's on Thursday evening during a visit to New York from Grand Rapids, Mich. Like many consumers, he's been spending less time at the malls and more online. For the Christmas season, he plans to do what he's been doing for the past few years: go to deal sites and find the best prices.

About 69 percent of Americans, or 164 million people, intend to shop at some point during the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to a survey released by the National Retail Federation. The federation expects Black Friday to remain the busiest day, with about 115 million people expected to to shop.

The traditional start of the Christmas shopping season has lost some of its buzz in recent years, but companies such as Target Corp. have revamped their selection and staffed up in anticipation of a merrier Christmas.

Macy's Chief Executive Officer Jeff Gennette said in an interview with Bloomberg Television: "Customers today want to go to a store -- the sights, the smells, the sounds. How you can create that in a department store is a unique opportunity that we have."

Even as Black Friday was getting underway, retailers are already looking ahead to Cyber Monday, when companies push online buying specials and when shoppers are expected to spend $6.6 billion, up 16 percent from last year, according to Adobe Analytics.

Target said everything on its website will be 15 percent off on Monday, and it will offer discounts throughout the week on specific categories, such as 40 percent off towels and bedding on Tuesday. Amazon's deals on its gadgets were similar to its Black Friday ones, such as 40 percent off its voice-activated Echo Dot. But it added other deals, such as 30 percent off Lego sets and 50 percent off certain Hasbro toys.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, said it has tripled the assortment of products it had online from last year. It'll offer thousands of deals, it says.

The shift to online buying will be a factor as industry analysts watch closely at how the nation's malls are faring for the start of the Christmas shopping season. The Mall of America in Minnesota said that 2,500 people were in line at the 5 a.m. opening Friday, similar to a year ago. Shoppers started queuing up as early as 5:45 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Jill Renslow, Mall of America's executive vice president of business development, said that stores like Nordstrom, Macy's and Best Buy were crowded. She said the items that caught shoppers' attention included voice-activated devices such as Amazon Echo, nostalgic toys, clothing and shoes.

Renslow says more than 60 of the 500-plus stores now allow shoppers to order online and pick up the goods at the mall. That's a big increase from a year ago.

The crowd at Park Plaza seemed to be bigger this year than a year ago, said Mike Noland, who's worked 17 years in the fragrance department of Dillard's.

"Cologne is something that's hard to buy online," Noland said.

With the U.S. unemployment rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases for November and December. The National Retail Federation expects sales for the period to at least match last year's rise of 3.6 percent, and it estimates that online spending and other nonstore sales will rise 11 to 15 percent.

Information for this article was contributed by Anne D'Innocenzio, Joseph Pisani, Chris Carola and Julie Walker of The Associated Press, Nathan Owens of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Lindsey Rupp of Bloomberg News.

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
Drew Webb and his girlfriend Morgan Bush stand at the front of a line of shoppers Friday morning at the Best Buy on Chenal Parkway as they wait to claim a 55-inch television.

A Section on 11/25/2017

Print Headline: Retailers work to draw out Black Friday buying frenzy

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