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Shop 'til you drop
Bargain hunters get serious after Thanksgiving
new slt black friday
Shoppers check out hand-made items on sale at the Christmas Craft Mall, 1709 Main St., Friday afternoon. Black Friday sales drew thousands of bargain hunters to Great Bends big retail stores early in the day. Small Business Saturday reminded people not to ignore the unique offerings of smaller stores. - photo by Susan Thacker

According to the Associated Press, more people were extending their shopping to include gifts for themselves, instead of just buying for others as they did during the disastrous 2008 Christmas.

"Where there are bargains, there are people looking to gobble them up," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for market research firm NPD. Though people were mostly sticking to their lists, some were picking up small extras. However, "the consumer is still very calculated."

Cohen, who had a team of consultants monitoring 11 regions in the country, estimated that 15 percent of purchases Friday morning were items for themselves, up from about 9 percent last year on the same day. On Black Friday 2008, he estimated it dropped to about 5 percent. In good economic times, such purchases run about 26 percent, Cohen said.

The fierce battle for shoppers’ wallets promises savings for those willing and able to buy amid an economy that’s still worrying many.

The good news is that retailers are heading into the season with some momentum after a solid start to November. Shoppers who can afford it are buying more nonessentials, like jewelry and luxury goods. That’s helping to lift their spirits about the holiday season, which is expected to generate revenue gains modestly higher than a year ago.

Still, nearly 15 million are unemployed, and concerns about job security cloud consumer confidence. Spending may be picking up but has not returned to pre-recession levels.

So, retailers are pushing deals on basics as well as offering discounts on more deluxe items, from bigger flat-panel TVs to more elaborate play sets.

"It’s a dogfight between retail companies," said Chris Donnelly, a senior executive in consulting group Accenture’s retail practice. "This year is the first time that there’s a little more money in the marketplace so they’re being more aggressive about getting the last dollar. At the end of the day, they’re going to outweigh people who are pulling back."

Thanksgiving weekend is huge for retailers. In recent years, so-called Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak. But it doesn’t necessarily provide a complete forecast of holiday sales. In fact, shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year, so the fate of the holiday season is increasingly down to the last few days before Christmas.

Retailers do study buying patterns for the weekend to discern shoppers’ mindset. This year, that means taking the measure on their willingness to spend just a little bit more.

Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend accounted for 12.3 percent of overall holiday revenue, according to ShopperTrak. Black Friday made up about half of that.

Source: The Associated Press




Frigid weather mixed with cheerful madness — that was the scene late Thursday and into the early morning hours Friday.

Bargain hunters turned out early for sales that marked the unofficial opening of the holiday shopping season. It may not appear on any calendar, but for serious shoppers, Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is as exciting as the first day of pheasant season is to bird hunters.

Shopper Scott Gregory headed to the Walmart Supercenter for the electronics that went on sale at 5 a.m. He didn’t expect to find thousands of people, apparently on the same quest.

"I’d never done shopping on (Black) Friday morning before," he said. "I kind of went as a spectator."

The first Black Friday sale in Great Bend started at 12:01 a.m., also at Walmart. Cars from several counties filled the parking lot for several rows, although parking was not an issue. The store is open 24/7, so the crowd didn’t have to wait in the cold, either. But they did have to wait for store employees to officially "open" the first stacks of sale items. Other deeply discounted items, including many of the coveted televisions and computers, would not go on sale until 5 a.m.

Not all shoppers came away with the items they set out for. Joe Cannon said he was at the store at 5, but the computer he came to buy sold out before he got one. "So, I bought a more expensive computer," he said. "You’re up, you’re in there, so you might as well buy something else."

Timing and careful reading of ads is part of the holiday shopping strategy, especially at the sales immediately following Thanksgiving. The "door-buster" items are often in limited quantities, and rain checks usually aren’t an option. Great prices touted at some stores were only "after rebate," and some coupons were only accepted on certain days, or even certain hours.

Shortly before 12:01 a.m. Friday, Walmart employees were called to their assigned posts, and customers who stood ready to grab the first sale items were asked to stand back while employees removed the string barriers set up around those displays.

Minutes later, the aisles were filled with shoppers, sometimes caught in shopping-cart traffic jams that thwarted forward progress. Some kept in touch with cells phones, while others shouted directions in the mostly civil mayhem. "I just want to buy carrots," one gridlocked shopper lamented.

Some early bird shoppers planned to stay at the Supercenter until the big-ticket items became available at 5 a.m. Others said they would head to the J.C. Penney store when it opened at 4.

There were also lines outside Orschelen Farm & Home when employees arrived at 5:30 a.m. — even though the store wouldn’t open until 6. The store’s five-hour sale for early customers offered everything from gun safes and tool boxes to barbed wire and pet food. Cannon, after purchasing his computer at Walmart, set up a grill in front of the store and sold ears of roasted corn as an added attraction to shoppers.

The shopping didn’t stop on Friday, and it wasn’t just at big chain stores. After Black Friday came Small Business Saturday, a promotion sponsored by American Express. It was, sponsors said, "a day to acknowledge the shops and restaurants that employ our neighbors and reinvest our money close to home. The businesses that are the heartbeat of our communities and local economies."

Mike Chansler, owner of Mike’s Meat Market in Great Bend, hadn’t heard of Small Business Saturday, but appreciated the sentiment. He wishes more folks in Great Bend would shop at home. "I see it every day," Chansler said, "people driving to Wichita because they think they’ll get a better deal."

Small businesses offered shopping at a less frenzied pace than the Black Friday dash, a spokesman for the Christmas Craft Mall, 1709 Main St., suggested. The early morning sales have their place, but the smaller stores that opened at regular hours were also seeing holiday shoppers, said Robert Roth with Roth Embroidery, one of more than 60 crafters selling items at store.

In addition to Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, tomorrow is Cyber Monday, the day Internet businesses offer their own super sales. But some businesses got a jump on all of those, staying open on Thanksgiving itself. Walgreen’s was one such store in Great Bend.

Whatever day people chose to shop, the early sales were an encouraging sign for retailers and for the economy, analysts said.