Black Friday made an early debut this year as shoppers flocked to big-box stores in Metairie and elsewhere Thanksgiving evening to get a head start on the holiday season’s best deals.
As competition between stores heats up, shopping again spilled over into Thanksgiving Day, proving that retailers are starting to make Black Thursday a new annual tradition. In some cases, stores rewarded this year’s early birds with special sales, offering deep discounts for those who left their homes Thanksgiving evening or even earlier to get first dibs during the most publicized sales event of the year.
Some shoppers, like 30-year-old Kenner resident Jay Grimes, spent more than 24 hours in line to take advantage of the deals. Grimes, who works for a limousine company, had been waiting at the Best Buy store at 6205 Veterans Memorial Blvd. with a friend since Wednesday afternoon. Both said they were there for one of 30 Panasonic 50-inch televisions the company said would be on sale for $200 at the store.
“I’m doing it for my mom. I’m surprising her with the TV today,” Grimes said, adding that the look he expected to see on her face would be worth sacrificing the majority of his Thanksgiving.
Grimes was in the front of the line, which had stretched to nearly 250 people by 4:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the store opened. He had teamed up with his friend, Kenner resident Danny Fugat, 38, so they could take turns finding warmth, getting food and using the restroom.
“I don’t look at it as giving up Thanksgiving,” said Fugat, who works offshore. “The day ain’t over yet. Besides, I’m doing it for my family. I took one for the team.”
At Toys R Us, 3609 Veterans, more than 60 people stretched in a line by 4:15 p.m., 45 minutes before the store opened. In the front of the line was 16-year-old Kenner resident James Mendez, who had been waiting with four of his buddies since 1 p.m.
The teenagers were waiting to get the PS4 video game bundle that came with two extra games, normally worth $60 each, for free. The $400 price tag would include the video games Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, the group said — a deal they felt was worth the wait, even though it meant delaying Thanksgiving dinner.
“We just ate chips and a couple of drinks,” Mendez said. “But, yes, it will be worth it.”
Parents had congregated at Toys R Us, too, including 29-year-old Shannon Hinton and her 2-month-old baby, Gavyn. Hinton was there to buy tablets for her two oldest children, ages 7 and 5.
“It’s absolutely worth it,” she said, adding that her mom has 17 grandkids, so she always tries to take advantage of sales to be able to buy Christmas presents for the whole family. “This year was a little different because I didn’t have a baby sitter, but the sun was out, and he’s been good, so it’s fine.”
Hinton had been in line since 2 p.m., but several people waited until much later to show up, including a couple just a few people behind her who said they’d eaten Thanksgiving dinner first and had gotten to the store just half an hour before it opened.
In addition to Toys R Us and Best Buy, Macy’s and J.C. Penney in Lakeside Shopping Center also opened their doors on Thanksgiving. Most stores were encouraged by positive responses to the early openings the year before.
“We are very excited. We opened at the same time last year, and we had a great response from customers,” Toys R Us spokeswoman Adrienne O’Hara said Wednesday. “Families came out with their kids and really made it an opportunity for it to be an outing.”
According to O’Hara, some of the store’s 200 “doorbusters,” or exclusive sales offered throughout the Thanksgiving weekend, were available only during a four-hour window starting Thursday at 5 p.m. They included merchandise from the hugely popular children’s movie “Frozen” and from the “Skylanders” video game and action figure set.
On Thanksgiving, for example, parents could buy “Frozen’s” plush Olaf character for 30 percent off or get a second Skylander action figure for 70 percent off after purchasing the first one at full price.
Generally, shoppers appreciate the opportunity to get good deals earlier, according to Shane Kitzman, who works in the public relations department of Best Buy. Kitzman added that the company’s stores opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year — an hour earlier than last year.
“The bottom line is, last year when we opened at 6, customers showed they enjoyed getting a head start on their shopping,” he said.
Kitzman added that, to “take away the drama,” the store offers tickets and vouchers to customers waiting in line for certain products, so they don’t have to run in and physically compete for the items. The customers can then pick up the products at another part of the store after paying for them at the register.
“For those who get in line, we want to make sure they have a stress-free and fun time,” he added.
Early birds were heavily rewarded at Best Buy on Thursday, according to a list of sales items the store provided customers in advance. A total of five deals were featured ahead of time for Thursday evening at the store, versus just one on Friday.
On Thursday, shoppers could get a Samsung 55-inch television for $900 — the lowest price ever offered on a television that brand and size, according to store officials. A Panasonic 50-inch television was on sale for $200, and shoppers could get $100 off an iPad Air 2, $50 off GoPro Hero cameras and $90 off Beats Solo headphones.
On Friday, the only deal publicized ahead of time was $120 off a MacBook Air computer.
“You’ll notice that the big deals are all for Thursday,” Kitzman said on Wednesday. “Those are while supplies last.”
Sears and Wal-Mart advertised Thanksgiving Day sales. Lakeside Shopping Center also announced it would open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with plans to operate through Friday and then reopen Saturday as early as at 7 a.m. Stores also are offering extended online sales during the crucial period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which allows retailers to rack up as much as 40 percent of their annual sales.
Some stores even rewarded online shoppers for starting on Thursday, according to retail data. Adobe, a company that tracks retail websites, predicted that online prices on Thanksgiving would be about 24 percent cheaper than normal, compared with 23 percent on Black Friday and 20 percent on Cyber Monday, according to an article by The Associated Press.
The early Thanksgiving sales may pay off, bolstering an already profitable season, according to predictions provided by retail watchers.
Last month, the National Retail Federation predicted that total retail sales in November and December will top sales for the same period in 2013 by about 4 percent. Louisiana’s economy has been a little stronger than many other parts of the country in recent years, meaning that the local holiday season could also be more robust.
In New Orleans, sales tax collections through September were more than 7 percent higher than collections for the same period in 2013, according to city figures.
Regardless of how the retailers fared, several shoppers left stores Thursday with big smiles, saying they were happy for the chance to get in on some exclusive deals.
“My wife and I are having a baby in January, so I just got a GoPro camera,” said Metairie resident Matthew Byrd, 32, as he left Best Buy shortly after 5:15 p.m. Thursday. “Between that and a Nikon, we’re going to cover everything. It’s worth a couple of hours in line.”
Grimes exited shortly afterward, with a big grin on his face.
“It feels so good. Hopefully, I’m about to shock my mom,” he said, walking out with a receipt he was told to use to pick up the TV at another part of the store. “It’s great.”