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Nation & World

Shopping season off to strong start

Decked out in her shopping gear, Sheryl Kinsey, front, of West Richland, takes her first haul to the car with her granddaughter Elizabeth Reed, left, 16 months, daughter Chrissy Reed, of West Richland and daughter Melissa Kinsey of Kennewick at Columbia Center Mall in Kennewick, Washington, Friday, November 23, 2012.
Decked out in her shopping gear, Sheryl Kinsey, front, of West Richland, takes her first haul to the car with her granddaughter Elizabeth Reed, left, 16 months, daughter Chrissy Reed, of West Richland and daughter Melissa Kinsey of Kennewick at Columbia Center Mall in Kennewick, Washington, Friday, November 23, 2012.

(MCT) — Opening their doors earlier than ever for Black Friday paid off for retailers as shoppers mobbed malls thick with sales, snapping up electronics, toys and other deals.

Despite the chaos, early signs point to a blockbuster shopping day for merchants — with stores raking in even more than the record $11.4 billion for Black Friday they reported last year. More comprehensive numbers are expected Sunday.

“Overall, it was a smash hit,” said Britt Beemer, a retail expert at America’s Research Group who has been tracking holiday sales nationally for more than three decades. “In all the years I have been out, I have never seen such crowds in my life.”

Target, Sears and the Disney Store reported a surge in customers. Wal-Mart said it was the retail behemoth’s best Black Friday sale ever. Mall operators saw long lines, and shoppers scooped up even some full-price items as well as bargains in stores and online.

The shopping frenzy cheered merchants and Wall Street, which enjoyed a big boost Friday.

Protests erupted over working conditions at dozens of Wal-Marts nationwide, including one that led to the arrest of nine people blocking a street in Paramount, Calif. And two people were shot in what police said was a scuffle over a parking spot at a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Fla.

Bargains continue through Sunday as an estimated 147 million shoppers are expected to hit the malls over the long weekend. Customers said they liked what they saw and took their enthusiasm straight to the cash register.

“You can’t miss out on that deal, man!” said Robert Perez, 26, who skipped Thanksgiving dinner altogether to buy two televisions at a Target in Glendale, Calif., for $147 each, a $103 discount for each TV.

“If I stayed at home eating turkey, I would have told myself, ‘I could have gotten the TVs,’ ” he said.

Lauren Sweeney, 31, of Whittier, Calif., hit the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday morning, zooming through seven stores in less than four hours for clothes and gifts for co-workers and family. The sales director, who was strategically shopping with her sister, mother and stepmother, said she was more confident in the economy and planned to splurge more on Christmas presents.

“We made it out of H&M and we didn’t get trampled,” Sweeney said.

It was good news for merchants who can rake in up to 40 percent of their annual sales during November and December and could give the economy a much-needed boost at the end of the year.

The National Retail Federation estimated that holiday sales will increase to $586.1 billion this year, up about 4.1 percent compared with the previous year. It will release its closely watched estimate of Black Friday sales Sunday.

According to a Gallup survey, consumers say they’ll spend an average of $770 on holiday gifts this year, roughly on par with what they estimated at this time last year.

“There’s a little more discretionary spending, and if the deal is right, shoppers will make the extra purchase that they didn’t make last year,” said Ken Perkins, an expert at Retail Metrics Inc. “Consumer confidence is at a five-year high, there has been improvement in people’s net worth, and we see just general improvement overall.”

In addition, consumers were benefiting from a drive by brick-and-mortar merchants to step up their deals.

Price-matching efforts and promotions were aimed at combating the success of rival online merchants, who enjoyed a 22.9 percent jump as of 6 p.m. ET on Black Friday over last year in sales. They’ll roll out even more Web bargains on so-called Cyber Monday, the first workday after the Thanksgiving weekend.

Analysts caution that a strong Black Friday does not always signal a great holiday season. Some predicted that after emptying their wallets over the weekend, many shoppers will hold on to their cash until the last few days before Christmas.

“People who shop today and can find what they want aren’t going to necessarily shop anymore,” said Alan Whitman, a managing director of Morgan Stanley in Pasadena, Calif. “The consumers may have just spent their money earlier.”

Retailers nervous about wooing customers threw open their doors hours earlier and unveiled bargains on Thanksgiving night, some as early as 8 p.m. The deals were plentiful: 40-inch Toshiba TVs for $180 at Best Buy (a nearly 60 percent savings); Xbox game consoles with video games for $149 at Wal-Mart; and discounted Barbie dolls at Toys R Us.

“I’ve got the whole store mapped out on my phone,” said Crystal de la Cruz, 31, who was first in line outside a Toys R Us in Torrance, Calif., on Thanksgiving night to snag discounted Xbox games for her sons. “You can get two for the price of one, so of course we’re here.”

Many shoppers were still watching their spending carefully and buying only truly great bargains.

At the Citadel Outlets in Los Angeles, Candice McDow, 31, of Glendale wasn’t bothering to check out the 20 percent-off sales. The medical records clerk said she had to watch her budget carefully and only bought items discounted to $5, $10 or at most $15.

“I spent $450 on 25 people,” she said proudly. “That’s what Black Friday is all about.”

Despite the mayhem that occasionally erupted, shoppers and police said the crowds were more peaceful than in years past, when brawls broke out regularly as consumers elbowed each other for the best deals.

“This year they have more guards,” said Debra Haro, 23, in line at a Wal-Mart in Duarte, Calif., on Friday for a 50-inch Emerson TV.

“Last year there was pushing, shoving, fistfights — people were literally throwing themselves at DVD players,” she said. “I think they’re starting to learn.”


(Marisa Gerber, Andrew Khouri, Wesley Lowery, Christine Mai-Duc, Laura J. Nelson, Joseph Serna and Frank Shyong of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.)

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