With the US economy fragile, many shops began their sales on Thursday night.
Retailer Target opened its doors at 9pm local time, three hours earlier than last year. Sears opened at 8pm. When department store Macy’s opened its flagship in New York at midnight, 11,000 shoppers arrived.
As shoppers flocked to the stores, various incidents were reported:
- A man reportedly pulled a gun on a shopper who punched him in the face while the two were waiting in line in a Sears store in South Park Mall in San Antonio, Texas late on Thursday
- A couple heading into a Wal-mart on Thursday night was hit by an SUV driven by a driver police suspect was under the influence of alcohol
- Video footage emerged from a Wal-mart store in Moultrie, Georgia, showing a large crowd of people pushing, yelling and grabbing boxes of mobile phones off a shelf; Wal-mart said nobody was injured
The National Retail Federation forecast a 4.1% increase in retail sales during the November-December holiday period this year, less than the 5.6% jump recorded last year.
And the 147 million people forecast for this year is down from 152 million on the Thanksgiving weekend last year, the NRF said.
More than 50% of consumers will do some browsing during the weekend, according to Kevin Sterneckert, vice president of retail research at Gartner.
“They will buy things because they looked at them in the store. They will touch and feel what they are interested in and then buy it online on Monday, either from the same retailer or a different online retailer.”
Bryan Everett, an executive at Target, told the New York Times that the make-up of customers had changed this year.
“Usually it’s just a parent with a child, or mom and dad, or just a single guest in the store,” he said. “This year we were seeing four- to five-person families.”
Bricks-and-mortar stores can make up to 40% of their annual revenue during the two-month holiday shopping season, but they are coming under increasing pressure from online retailers such as Amazon.
A survey by Forrester Research suggested online shopping is set to jump 15% to $68.4bn this year.
And according to IBM, online sales for Thanksgiving were up 18% on Thursday, compared with a year earlier, showing that shoppers are turning to the web and beginning buying earlier, rather than waiting for the physical stores to open.
Still, many shoppers left behind the traditional Thanksgiving dinner to camp out in search of bargains. Jackie Berg arrived on Wednesday to a makeshift camp outside a Best Buy store in Michigan.
“We’ll miss the actual being there with family, but we’ll have the rest of the weekend for that,” she said.
In Orlando, at another Best Buy store, people had camped out for days.
Gabriel Esteves, 33, has been queuing since Monday and stayed in line despite his brother and sister going home to spend Thanksgiving with their families.
“They told me to take a break and go to the house, but today’s the worst day to leave the line. People come and cut in,” said Mr Esteves, who is a self-employed car audio installer and wanted to buy a 50-inch television.
In the past, the huge numbers of people chasing a bargain and the small paces meant that tempers have occasionally flared.
Elizabeth Garcia, from New York, went shopping at about 3:30am at Toys R Us in Times Square. Last year, Ms Garcia almost got into a fight over a Tinker Bell sofa. “This year I wasn’t about to kill people,” she said.
A coalition of current and former Wal-Mart staff seeking better wages, benefits and working conditions have staged months of protests outside stores.
Americans spend about $875m buying turkeys for Thanksgiving and 43 million were estimated to be travelling for the holiday this year.