NEW YORK – When J.C. Penney Co.’s store in New York’s Herald Square opened at 8 p.m. yesterday, Paula Mason was the first shopper through the door.
Lured by the discounts and mindful that she didn’t get everything she wanted last year, the 50-year-old babysitter from Brooklyn quickly dropped about $200 on dolls, shoes and household goods for her four grandchildren and daughter-in-law.
“I saw the sales and decided to come out tonight,” said Mason, who planned to spend as much as $400 yesterday. “This year, I’ll spend more because there are such good deals, and last year I didn’t get everything I wanted.”
Mason was one of millions of Americans who interrupted their Thanksgiving celebrations yesterday to go shopping. Millions more will hit the malls today for the annual Black Friday sales event. Many chains opened earlier than ever this year to win market share in a holiday shopping season that researcher ShopperTrak predicts will be the weakest since 2009.
Faced with smaller crowds of less confident shoppers as well as six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year, retailers are pouring on margin-eating discounts.
“Retailers are selling at a point of desperation,” said Robin Lewis, a retail consultant based in New York. “They are going to be gouging each other’s eyes out. There’s more discounting going on than Heinz has pickles.”
As many as 140 million people planned to shop in stores and online yesterday through Sunday, the National Retail Federation said, down from 147 million last year. Black Friday will be the biggest day of the weekend, with about 97 million shoppers, the group said. Sales figures for today will be released tomorrow by ShopperTrak and the next day by the NRF.
Stores and malls nationwide beefed up security, with some hiring off-duty cops to complement in-house guards. They also used live entertainment, portable bathrooms and ticketing and wristband systems to keep crowds orderly and avoid the death and injuries that have occurred in the past.
More than a dozen retailers opened earlier or for the first time on Thanksgiving Day. Among the first-timers were Macy’s Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and J.C. Penney, which is in the midst of turnaround efforts. About 33 million shoppers intended to shop on turkey day, said the NRF, a Washington-based trade group.
In Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine, however, so-called “blue laws” prohibit large supermarkets and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving.