Retailers Hope To Make Up For 2009 Holiday Season

Retailers hoped for a healthy turnout on Black Friday — a huge shopping day that has become almost a national holiday. The recession has taken a lot of the fun out of holiday shopping for millions of households, but there are still a lot of bargain-hunters out there.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Retailers opened their doors earlier than ever this Black Friday. They launched an aggressive campaign to get consumers to come out and shop, and many stores even stayed open yesterday. Analysts estimate this year will be better than last holiday season, which was one of the worst in recent memory.

NPR's Carrie Kahn checked out the Black Friday scene.

CARRIE KAHN: Black Friday really began on Turkey Thursday for Timothy Pineda. He started waiting in line at a Best Buy in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon. He missed Thanksgiving dinner, but said the deals made it worthwhile.

Mr. TIMOTHY PINEDA: Oh, I wanted to get laptops there. You're saving like $200 on each laptop, so... this is a GPS and a TV.

KAHN: Kahdysja Semien wasn't going to miss any part of the turkey dinner or lose her place in line.

Ms. KAHDYSJA SEMIEN: We paid someone $50 to hold our...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SEMIEN: ...spot while we went and had Thanksgiving.

KAHN: After the dishes were done and a quick nap, she was back in line at 2 a.m. By 6 this morning, Semien had three discounted laptops - one for each of her kids.

Unidentified Woman: If I could have you go right there to the blue X, you'll be next in line.

KAHN: Dozens of employees were trying to direct the crowds through long checkout lines. Most carts were overflowing with electronics, video games and HDTVs.

Todd Barber, a security guard, got in early, and got everything he was looking for.

So was it worth it?

Mr. TODD BARBER (Security Guard): Yeah, yeah. It's worth it. Yeah. Now, I'm going to go home and sleep. I'm done for today.

KAHN: Barber says he made sure his credit card was paid off in anticipation of Black Friday. It took him all year to get down to a zero balance.

Mr. BARBER: Now, I'm going to put it right back up there again. Yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARBER: It's the American way.

KAHN: Retailers are hoping consumers do spend more this year, especially since last year's holiday was so dismal.

Kathy Grannis, of the National Retail Federation, says sales will increase about 2.5 percent this year.

Ms. KATHY GRANNIS (Manager, Media Relations, National Retail Federation): We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, in terms of an improving economy. But at this point, we still need more jobs and more confidence in our consumers. But certainly, we are encouraged by the fact that people are willing to spend a little bit more this year.

KAHN: On average, she says Black Friday shoppers will spend about $350 today. It wasn't even 6 in the morning, and Chris Sledd had almost hit that total.

Mr. CHRIS SLEDD: I was in Macy's because they opened at 4. So I was in Macy's, ran over there, spent about $300, came over here, and I'm about to spend some more money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAHN: Macy's CEO, Terry Lundgren, says this is the first year he's opened stores so early.

Mr. TERRY LUNDGREN (CEO, Macy's): Well, we did look at all of our competitors, and they were opening earlier and earlier. And so we decided to open at 4 o'clock instead of 5 o'clock.

KAHN: Lundgren says if you can get customers first, that's where they'll most likely spend the bulk of their Black Friday budget. Lundgren says based on preliminary surveys, spending at Macy's may be up as much as 5 percent this year.

But Jackie Fernandez, an analyst with Deloitte, says it's much too early for rosy sales predictions. She was out at the Galleria in Glendale, California, all day. Fernandez says for most consumers, especially for families making less than $100,000 a year, the holidays are not going to be that jolly.

Ms. JACKIE FERNANDEZ (Analyst, Deloitte): People are not spending. People are holding off on spending until absolutely necessary, and they're looking for good deals.

KAHN: Fernandez says retailers made deep discounts to draw customers in, and it's unclear whether the increased sales will add to the bottom line.

At the Best Buy in the Westfield Mall in Los Angeles, consumer confidence appeared to be as full as some customers' carts - although the gift of giving by some was in short supply.

Are these Christmas presents?

Mr. BARBER: No. These are me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARBER: These are mine.

KAHN: Todd Barber said it's been a rough year, and he felt like treating himself.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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