EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 30, 2013

Holiday shopping off to a brisk start

Sales expected to be up 3.9 percent from last year, to $602 billion

By Sara Brown
sbrown@eagletribune.com

---- — While most were getting ready to have desserts with their family on Thanksgiving, Krystal Townsend of North Andover was getting ready to work the busiest weekend in retail.

“I wasn’t that excited about leaving my family early, but that’s life in retail for you,” she said.

More than a dozen major U.S. retailers stayed open for 24 hours or more on Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday, and crowds formed early and often over the two days, many continuing to shop yesterday, into today.

Townsend, who’s employed at a Nashua at a retail chain, worked 5:45 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving — starting from the moment she arrived.

“There was a line outside the door when I pulled up and it was crazy busy more than last year. We had some long lines for a few hours,” she said.

This year may cement the transformation of the start of the holiday shopping season into a two-day affair.

Black Friday, the official start of the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, originally was named that because it was when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black. Retailers opened early and offered deep discounts.

But in the past few years, store chains have been opening on Thanksgiving, and it’s making a dent in Black Friday sales. Shoppers spent $9.74 billion on Black Friday, a drop of 13.2 percent compared with last year, according to data released on Saturday by research firm ShopperTrak.

The decline appears to show that more Americans shopped on the holiday itself: Combined spending on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, which had been considered the official start to the holiday buying season until this year, rose 2.3 percent to $12.3 billion.

The data reflects that Thanksgiving, which along with Christmas was one of two days a year that most stores were closed, is becoming an important day for major retailers.

The National Retail Federation, a retail trade group, predicted that 33 million, or almost a quarter, of the 140 million people who planned to shop during the four-day holiday weekend that ends on Sunday, would do so on Thanksgiving.

“Retailers were pretty successful in drawing the consumers into the stores on Thursday,” said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin, whose company counts how many shoppers go into about 40,000 stores in U.S. But “Thursday’s sales came at the expense of Black Friday’s numbers.”

The decline in sales on Black Friday was the second one in a row. Last year, sales on that day dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year, according to ShopperTrak.

Townsend could also see the difference.

“It wasn’t as bad as last year. Last year was more busy when we opened because we weren’t open Thanksgiving night. It was steady but not overwhelming,” she said.

She even did some Black Friday shopping herself during her break.

There will be a clearer picture of sales for the first holiday shopping weekend on Sunday when The National Retail Federation releases data.

Overall, the retail trade group expects sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602 billion for the season, which encompasses the last two months of the year. That’s higher than last year’s 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

However, there are still a lot of people out there with shopping to do — waiting for the crowds to calm down.

Christopher Dion, of Haverhill, said Black Friday isn’t his “cup of tea.”

“I just couldn’t justify standing in line in the cold for the chance of getting a discount on something. Sometimes the best deals come later in the month,” he said. “From the Facebook posts I have seen my friends writing, I think I made the right choice. A lot of them were complaining about the whole ordeal.”

Dion said he participated in Black Friday a few years ago but probably wouldn’t do it again anytime soon.

Materials from the AP was used in this story.

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