Shoppers snapped up 500 gift cards in 15 minutes yesterday at the Mall at Robinson, a shopping center about 10 miles outside Pittsburgh.
Last year, it took two hours to hand them out, said Shema Krinsky, the mall’s marketing director, who added that the parking lot was 90 percent full by 8:30 a.m.
“We expect this to be what the rest of the holiday has in store,” Krinsky said in a telephone interview.
Across the U.S., stores reported heavier traffic than last year as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, got off to its earliest start yet. Foot traffic at the Mall at Robinson increased the most in five years, Krinsky said. At Macy’s Inc.’s flagship store in New York’s Herald Square, many people were shopping for themselves for the first time in two years, Chief Executive Officer Terry Lundgren said.
After denying themselves in the wake of the recession, many American consumers seem ready to spend this holiday season, says Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based consultancy McMillan Doolittle.
"There’s no question that there is pent-up consumer demand that will drive retail growth this season," he said in an interview yesterday. "America is still a consumer-driven society, we just haven’t had the means to indulge."
Shoppers are taking advantage of deals as they face down a slower economic recovery than projected. Retailers view Black Friday -- so named because that’s when many stores become profitable -- as a bellwether for the entire holiday season.
Dawn Vero, 39, and her twin sister, Denise Pascia, started their Black Friday at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday at Toys “R” Us Inc., where they waited in the rain for an hour to get in the store and then spent another three hours shopping.
They visited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. around 2:30 a.m. and then Bed, Bath and Beyond before arriving at a Target Corp. store, where at 7:30 a.m. they had already spent an hour waiting in a line of a couple hundred people snaking throughout the store. Their shopping carts brimmed with clothes and toys.
“I don’t remember the crowds being this bad last year,” said Vero, a lawyer with two children from Hopewell, Pennsylvania.
More than 700 people waited for Best Buy Co.’s store to open in New York’s Union Square at 5 a.m. today. Among its doorbuster specials, the world’s largest electronics retailer offered a Sony Corp. Vaio laptop with a built-in Blu-Ray player, Karate Kid disc and carry bag for $500, a 32 percent savings.
Doorbusters demand was strong for computers and televisions and “incredibly strong” for e-readers, Mike Vitelli, Best Buy’s North America president, said by telephone from the store.
“The good news for us is, I’m seeing lines,” said Jim Fielding, president of Walt Disney Co.’s retail division, who had already visited three of his company’s stores in California by 5:30 a.m. local time yesterday. Parking lots at one mall were 10 percent to 15 percent fuller than last year, he estimated. Disney, based in Burbank, California, opened some stores at midnight again this year.
Sharon Mazzocco, a 47-year-old nurse from Cecil, Pennsylvania, plans to spend 50 percent more this year because her husband’s business renting fork lifts and heavy shipping equipment has been "booming."
The stores were packed and people were spending more this year, she said. "More high-end stores are crowded. The past couple of years, Old Navy would be crowded and now Banana Republic is packed.’’
Analysts’ estimates for holiday sales vary from little changed to increases of as much as 4.5 percent. The Washington- based National Retail Federation predicts a gain of 2.3 percent to $447.1 billion after an uptick of 0.4 percent last year and a 3.9 percent drop in 2008.
Those forecasts coincided with a rebound in U.S. consumer spending this year as the economy began adding jobs. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, increased at a 2.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter, according to the Commerce Department. That was the fastest since the final three months of 2006.
Same-store sales, a key indicator because new and closed locations are excluded, rose for 14 straight months through October. Same-store sales for November and December may advance as much as 3.5 percent, the largest increase since 2006, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Black Friday was the largest shopping day in 2009, with $18.6 billion in sales, according to MasterCard Spending Pulse, which is based in Purchase, New York. That may climb this year since 31 percent of consumers plan to shop that day, up from 26 percent a year earlier, according to the shopping centers group.
Melanie Devontino, 26, plans to spend $1,500 on holiday gifts, more than triple what she spent last year. At a Wal-Mart in Greensboro, North Carolina, she opened a pallet full of Hewlett-Packard Co. printers even before store workers had given shoppers the green light. They asked people to put the merchandise back. Devontino ignored them.
“I’m running hard,” she said.
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