Shop or sleep?
For die-hard shoppers, Black Friday brought light to those who gathered before sunrise for bargains. Sleep can wait.
Even though many stayed out late on Thanksgiving, they were ready to do it again early Friday morning and retailers welcomed them, hoping the crowds would bring green on a calendar-shortened shopping season.
But it was a quieter morning than Andria Lima of Fort Lauderdale expected at the Coral Square Mall in Coral Springs, Florida. She’s shopped Black Friday sales before and said she was surprised to find the mall emptier than past years.
She bought most of the items she was after with online sales but came to the mall’s Shoe Carnival for the early morning coupon giveaway.
“It’s overrated,” Lima said of Black Friday. “They really build it up.”
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Debi Kaplan, of Coral Springs, was expecting the mall to be busier, too.
“It’s quiet. I thought it would be packed,” she said, noting there is a benefit. “No lines.”
Kohl's and J.C. Penney opened Thanksgiving afternoon and stayed open throughout the night while other stores, including Target and Best Buy, closed for a few hours and reopened at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., respectively.
Friday morning also kicked off in-store sales at stores that closed on the holiday including Lowe's, Home Depot and Costco, which experienced issues with its website and app most of Thursday. A majority of stores opened at 6 a.m.
Rob Kolenko started the line at the Coral Springs Best Buy around 6:20 a.m. ahead of the 8 a.m. opening.
It wasn’t his first trip to the store this week. He came to the store Thursday but missed out on the TV he wanted, so he planned to be one of the first shoppers Friday to get a different doorbuster – a 65-inch Smart TV for $299.99.
“I made sure I was here early,” Kolenko said wearing shorts and sunglasses. “We’re lucky we don’t have to worry about cold and snow and things like that.”
Creeping into Thanksgiving
For years, Black Friday has marked the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season and the time of year when shoppers get focused on holiday spending.
That rush of spending gave Black Friday its name, as in the time of year when retailers were "in the black." For nearly a decade, that official kickoff has been creeping ever closer to Thanksgiving, eating into time people used to spend around the holiday table.
Kim Suarez and her mother and daughter, also shopping at the Coral Springs mall, were wearing “Black Friday Squad” shirts that they got for this year for their annual outing, but it didn’t feel the same for them.
“We were home having dinner with our family and all the doorbusters started at 5 p.m.,” Suarez said, adding they were disappointed that there weren’t as many deals left on actual Black Friday.
Shoppers may also find that not all bargains are created equally.
Black Friday is prime time for getting the best pricing on appliances and sporting goods when buying online, according to Adobe Analytics, an analytics software firm. Computers and toys also had deep discounts, though Cyber Monday, which ends the holiday shopping season kickoff weekend, will offer the best online deals on TVs.
Alexa Shanahan, 27, was strolling through Victoria's Secret in New York City, carrying out a ritual she'd engaged in for years.
"It's a tradition in my family,'' says Shanahan, who is originally from Rhode Island. "We would get up early every year just for fun.''
But she's skeptical about the so-called deals the stores promote. "It’s all just a gimmick,'' she says. "If you look back six months ago, these products were all the same prices. They just jack them up gradually, so when Black Friday comes, they just bring them back down to make it seem like a deal.”
And Shanahan also questions so much emphasis being put on spending money. “The holiday should be about being with your family, not about going out shopping,'' she says. "So much for giving thanks.''
Busiest shopping day of the year?
Since 2014, Black Friday has yielded its mantle as the busiest shopping day of the year to ''Super Saturday,'' the last Saturday before Christmas. RetailNext, which analyzes traffic and other metrics at brick and mortar stores, says that based on historical data and current trends, Super Saturday will again have the highest tally of overall sales.
Still, online sales were expected to leap more than 19% to $7.4 billion on Black Friday, according to Adobe Analytics. That comes on the heels of record-breaking sales on Thanksgiving when purchases reached $4.2 billion.
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Even if some stores were quieter than expected, some shoppers said they were still glad to take part in what has become an American tradition.
The day after its legendary parade, the Macy's flagship in midtown Manhattan was missing some of its magic. But tourists from various parts of the world roamed its aisles in the early morning.
Jane Gibson, visiting from the Bahamas, wanted to celebrate her birthday by shopping at the Black Friday Macy’s event with her two best friends.
“We celebrate Black Friday (in) the Bahamas, but the variety and the prices are so much better over here,” Gibson said.
Camila Cortese, a 25-year-old baker who had traveled to New York from Argentina didn't appear to be finding as much to buy as her brother and his boyfriend. But Macy's wasn't going to be her only Black Friday stop.
“I want to buy a computer and a cellphone,'' she said.
Not all shoppers were on the hunt for treasures to put under the tree. Across the country, many beer lovers made the annual Black Friday pilgrimage to acquire bourbon barrel-aged beers from Goose Island Brewing Co., the Chicago-based brewer that Anheuser-Busch acquired in 2011. For the ninth year, Goose Island has released its original Bourbon County Brand Stout and additional flavor variants with a nationwide Black Friday morning event.
Lee Lessick, of Philadelphia, 46, began waiting outside the Total Wine & More store in McLean, Virginia, about 7 a.m. Friday for the chance to buy some of the beers, which ranged in price from $13 to $26. His prizes included a bottle of the original Bourbon County Stout, a 15.2% ABV stout aged in a mix of Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey barrels. The result is an inky, rich stout that delivers flavors of chocolate, vanilla, toffee and caramel.
Other boozy treasures he acquired included the Mon Chéri Stout, which is enhanced with cherries; the Café de Olla Stout, made with coffee beans, cold coffee and orange peel; and the Wheatwine Ale, aged in wheated bourbon casks.
By the time the doors opened on the brisk 40-degree morning, about 30 others had joined him in line. Lessick, who was on his fifth annual quest for the beers, said, “the beers are distinct and they are different. They are very complex. Other beers seem very thin compared to these.”
Another bonus for Lee Wood, of Lawton, Oklahoma, 37, who was in line behind Lessick to purchase the beers: “It’s a chance to get away from the family.”
Rise of online shopping
A more chill Black Friday scene may have been due in part to the rise of online shopping. This is the first holiday season that a majority of shoppers – 54% – say they intend to do more of their browsing and buying online than in person, according to the consultancy PwC.
"Waiting outside in the cold for early deals and doorbusters on Black Friday has lost its appeal for many shoppers,'' says Rob Garf, vice president of industry strategy and insights at cloud software company Salesforce. "Digital, particularly mobile phones, has provided the ease and access for consumers to browse and buy throughout the extended holiday season.''
The muted atmosphere stood out to Kelvin Verdujo, a New York City native who said he remembered a time when shopping on Black Friday could be frantic.
“Every time I would come around here, it would be packed,'' the 21-year-old pre-med student said as he sat in an H&M store near Macy's holding his mother's and sister's purchases. "Ever since online shopping and Cyber Monday happened, it’s just not the same anymore.''
Verdujo said he experienced wild experiences when he was younger, including fellow shoppers who tried to steal items he'd picked up right out of his hands.
Some of those bygone antics are why he liked Black Friday so much.
“I used to come for the accidents,” Verdujo said. “It’s all quiet and boring now.”
Contributing: Mike Snider in McLean, Va.; Coral Murphy-Marcos in New York
Follow USA TODAY reporters Charisse Jones and Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @charissejones and @KellyTyko
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black Friday 2019: Shoppers head to stores Friday searching for deals