Shoppers get an early start
Early bird shoppers came well prepared with tents, coolers and a lot of patience to wait for Black Friday deals at the Kissimmee Best Buy store Wednesday.
Lines were long even before Black Friday
By Ken Jackson and Tiffanie Reynolds
By the time retail stores opened their doors Friday morning to let more holiday deal-seekers roam their aisles, managers had already counted receipts from two, rather than one, Thanksgiving weekend shopping days.
Black Friday, the traditional mega-shopping day after Thanksgiving, morphed into Thursday this year as more stores began the shopping frenzy with Thursday hours, and those who had opened on Thanksgiving in previous years threw open the doors even earlier.
For instance, Old Navy stores opened at 7 a.m. Thursday at the Loop in north Kissimmee. It closed from 4-7 p.m. — no other retailers reported taking a midday break — before resuming business until midnight.
For many stores at the Loop, such as Ross and JCPenney, this year was the first they opened on Thanksgiving. Both stores opened at 8 p.m. on Thursday. But, opening a day earlier isn’t just for the added sales, but to give shoppers a bigger opportunity to take advantage of the discounts.
“I think it’s more of a customer service. To feed the needs of the customer, more or less,” Joe Baldwin, general manager of Ross at the Loop in north Kissimmee, said.
For JCPenney store manager BJ Hart, opening the day before Black Friday has turned her focus more on the store’s employees. Her employee support ranged from surprise gifts and giveaways to providing an ample supply of water and food throughout the day.
“Feeding them around the clock, so that they don’t have to go out and look for food. In the past, we would provide one big meal, but now we’re providing breakfast, snacks throughout the day, and water,” Hart said.
The Sports Authority store in the Loop opened at 6 p.m. on Thursday, and after closing at midnight, it re-opened at 6 a.m. for a 18-hour Black Friday marathon.
“When you work in retail, you just get used to it,” store assistant manager Tina LaSalle said on Wednesday, bracing for what the store expected to be a busy Thanksgiving Day in the store before the usual Black Friday onslaught. “We expect it to be busy.”
LaSalle said the store has opened on Thanksgiving in years past, and that staffing was not a problem for Thursday as enough employees move their family plans up a little earlier to where it becomes “just another day.”
“I can’t predict how much we’ll sell, but based on the past I’d say it’s worthwhile for us (to open on the holiday), she said. “We do have quite a few people who come in.”
Across from the Loop, shoppers at the Best Buy store at John Young Parkway and Osceola Parkway intent on getting this year’s top electronics like the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and a line of price-slashed 39-inch televisions, began lining up on Monday, forming a mini-city of tents.
Kahui Pokipala was at the front of the line, marking his fifth year of camping out at the store. He trains performers at a Universal Studios luau show, so he can set his schedule to be off Thanksgiving week to camp out. The native Hawaiian shrugged off Thursday morning’s chilly weather.
“I came ready with layers of clothes, and people are bringing me food so I offer to get them their items while I’m there,” he said. “Other than not putting our tents past a line in front of the doors, the store managers don’t say anything to us.”
He said the line got longer around midnight, with a throng of people coming three hours before the doors opened at 6 p.m. Thursday; they may have gone home disappointed.
“They won’t get the big doorbuster deals,” Pokipala said. “I tell people that if you see a tent, you probably should get in line then.”
The National Retail Federation estimates that 140 million people will shop this year, with 23 percent of those shoppers planning to go out on Thanksgiving.
Black Friday, shoppers should hit 69 percent, the NRF’s November Consumer Survey report said.