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Updated: Fri, 29 Nov 2013 22:27:46 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Black Friday shopping stampede starts early in U.S.



Brittny King shops at the Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha Neb., on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the nation's biggest shopping day of the year. Jm Burnett, The Omaha World-Herald/Associated Press

Brittny King shops at the Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha Neb., on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the nation's biggest shopping day of the year. Jm Burnett, The Omaha World-Herald/Associated Press

The holiday shopping season started as a marathon, not a sprint.

More than a dozen major retailers from Target to Toys R Us opened for 24 hours or more on Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping period. As a result, crowds formed early and often throughout the two days.

About 15,000 people were waiting for the flagship Macy's in New York City's Herald Square when it opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Long checkout lines formed at the Target in Colma, Calif., on Black Friday morning. And at North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Ga., Jessica Astalos, 20, had already been shopping for six hours starting on Thanksgiving night as another wave of shoppers made their way into the mall around 5:30 a.m. ET on Black Friday.

"You just have to be out in the midst of all of it," said Ricki Moss, who hit stores near Portland, Ore., at 5:30 a.m. PT on Friday. "It's exciting."

The start of the holiday shopping season has transformed into a two-day event. For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start to the busy buying binge sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was named Black Friday because that was traditionally when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black.

This year, several welcomed shoppers for the first time on Thanksgiving night, while Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened half its stores earlier on the holiday.

Wal-Mart stores, most of which stay open 24 hours, has for the past several years offered doorbusters that had been reserved for Black Friday. And Kmart planned to stay open 41 hours starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

That has led some to question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving, which along with Christmas is one of only two days a year that most stores are closed.

"Black Friday is now Gray Friday," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.

Calmer in Canada

In Canada, retail trade also stepped up substantially, with almost half of all Canadians expected to shop today, CBC's Charlsie Agro reported.

At Toronto's Eaton Centre, the doors opened at 6 a.m. ET, and people were lined up to get in, Agro reported.

"It's all in an effort to capitalize on the American shopping phenomenon," she said.

The mall's owner, Cadillac Fairview Corp., tried early Black Friday openings last year at nine malls in Ontario and one in Manitoba. This year, all 21 of the company's malls opened early.

"I think, as retailers, we're all doing things that we traditionally haven't done to stay competitive and bring great deals to Canadian shoppers," said Meredith Vlitas, senior marketing director at the Toronto Eaton Centre.

At the Cornwall mall in downtown Regina, an orderly, friendly queue of about 200 shoppers waited patiently for their chance to shop for deals, the CBC's Bonnie Allen reported.

The earlier openings and sales were met with some resistance south of the border. Some workers' rights groups had planned protests on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they opposed having retail employees miss family meals at home. But as of Thursday afternoon, there weren't reports of widespread protests.

There were some reports of scattered violence Thursday and Friday:

- In Chicago, authorities said a police officer answering a call of alleged shoplifting at a department store on Thursday night shot the driver of a car that was dragging a fellow officer. The wounded driver of the car and the dragged officer were both taken for hospital treatment of non-life-threatening shoulder injuries, police say. Three people were arrested.

- In Southern California, authorities said a police officer suffered a broken wrist as he broke up a brawl between two men waiting in line for Black Friday shopping deals at a Wal-Mart.

- In Las Vegas, police said a shopper carrying a big-screen TV home from a Target on Thanksgiving was shot by a thief.

- In Utah, police said at least two people were knocked to the ground by a crowd of Wal-Mart shoppers jockeying for a $49 tablet computer

Sales boost unclear

Judy Espey ducked out of a Thanksgiving family dinner to buy a flat-screen TV at Wal-Mart near Clifton Park, N.Y., for $288. But "I don't really dig the Thanksgiving night thing," she confessed. "I feel bad for the workers."

Vinnie Gopalakrishnan pledged not to hit the stores after seeing TV footage of people shopping on Thanksgiving. But he flip-flopped after his cousin told him about a deal on a big-screen TV.

"I said, `I'm not going to do it. Those people are crazy,"' Gopalakrishnan said before heading to a Wal-Mart on Friday.

It's unclear whether the early openings will lead shoppers to spend more over the two days or simply spread sales out.

Last year, sales on Thanksgiving rose 55 per cent from the previous year to $810 million, as more stores opened on the holiday, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 per cent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

Store sales numbers won't be available until Saturday. The National Retail Federation said 140 million people planned to shop during the four-day holiday weekend.

IBM Benchmark, which tracks e-commerce for 800 retailers, said online sales rose 19.7 per cent on Thanksgiving.

There are signs that stores fared well, too.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, started its holiday sales events at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. Wal-Mart said customers bought at least 2.8 million towels, 2 million TVs, 1.4 million tablets, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9 million dolls.

Terry Lundgren, Macy's CEO, said the 15,000 people who showed up for the opening of the flagship store was the most ever, up from 11,000 last year. "Clearly people are in the shopping mood," he said.

Of course, not every retailer saw robust crowds.

At Woodland Hills mall in Tulsa, Okla., the owner of Bags and Bangle complained that he had to stay open from 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 10 p.m. on Friday. Suhail Zaidi, who was required by the mall to keep his booth open, said Thanksgiving was somewhat busy, but business had died down by 3 a.m. On Friday morning, he said he had seen only about 20 customers.

"We ruined the holiday," Zaidi said. "Black Friday is a good shopping day, but opening up on Thanksgiving is ridiculous."

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