When Jason Gonzales arrived at Best Buy near the Mall of Louisiana at 6 a.m. Friday, he discovered a relatively short line. Though he was determined to snag a deal on a new TV, he decided to return to his car and take a nap until closer to the store’s 8 a.m. opening.
Gonzales, who lives in St. Amant, counts himself lucky. Back in line by 7:30 a.m., he was still one of the first customers through the door and was able to buy a 60-inch TV at a $400 discount.
“My little boy’s going to love this,” an excited Gonzales said, adding that his 5-year-old son, who enjoys playing games on their old TV, won’t have to wait until Christmas for the new set. “This is going straight in.”
Gonzales was one of thousands of Black Friday shoppers across the Baton Rouge area looking for holiday deals.
Right before Best Buy opened, the line of waiting shoppers wrapped around the front and side of the store. Many of the shoppers, including Baton Rouge resident Bryan Nelson, had been there since 6 a.m. hoping to get a 49-inch TV set on sale for $150, but were disappointed to find they had already sold out on Thanksgiving night.
“I’ll probably wait to buy one now,” Nelson said. “That was a good deal.”
About 71 percent of Americans will go shopping sometime during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Spending throughout the holiday season is predicted to increase slightly this year, with the average shopper spending just over $700 on gifts and other holiday-related items, according to an ICSC study.
Matt Oliver, general manager of Tanger Outlet Mall in Gonzales, said Black Friday for retailers is “probably one of best days of the year in terms of sales” along with the last few days before Christmas.
Tanger usually sees a few thousand shoppers on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, Oliver said. Despite a trend in more stores opening the evening of Thanksgiving, “Friday is still the stronger day,” he said.
Preparing for the influx of holiday shoppers requires some advance effort, Oliver said. For example, extra police patrols are brought in for traffic control and security.
The other key to an enjoyable Black Friday experience is treating store workers well so they can best serve customers, said Margaret Kopfler, manager of Kohl’s in Baton Rouge. Because her store opened at 6 p.m. Thursday and remained open all day Friday until midnight, she had meals delivered for staff members every few hours.
Kopfler, who has worked in retail for 35 years, said the store was busy the entire time. About 300 people were in line when Kohl’s opened on Thursday evening, she said, with many of them shopping for TVs, hoverboards, video game systems and other electronics.
While online holiday shopping has become increasingly popular, 90 percent of retail shopping is still done at physical stores, said Chrislyn Miller, the Mall of Louisiana’s marketing manager. Some department stores in the mall opened Thursday afternoon, and all stores were required to open by 6 a.m. Friday.
“We know that, traditionally, department stores do a lot of volume on Black Friday,” she said. “They have those fantastic doorbusters.”
Still, many people at the mall on Friday were not hunting deals as much as they were just having fun. Some shoppers have made a tradition of spending Black Friday scouring the stores with friends and family.
Dawn Bourgeois, her 17-year-old daughter Morgan Bourgeois, of Paulina, and sister Tonya Jeavons, of St. Amant, drive to Baton Rouge every year for Black Friday shopping.
The three arrived at Mall of Louisiana at 5:30 a.m. By 9 a.m., they had already dropped off a load of purchases at their car and amassed another armload of bags from Justice and Dillard’s.
“It’s like our outing as sisters — the only time we get to do stuff together,” Jeavons said.
Brandi Fletcher, her four daughters and her cousin have been shopping together every Black Friday for the past four years. They always have matching T-shirts made for the occasion. This year, the design on the back of their shirts included phrases like “I just got your doorbuster” and “shop till you drop.”
Fletcher and her family, who live in Livingston Parish, fought crowds to begin their shopping at 4 p.m. Thursday. They shopped most of the night, went home and slept for two hours, then came to the mall early Friday morning.
“We get some really good deals, but it’s more the experience,” she said. “It’s good to get out and have a girls day.”