No hour too early to shop: Shoppers camp out late Thursday and early Friday as retailers rejoice.
(Tulsa World (OK) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Nov. 24--While people were still enjoying Thanksgiving meals and hitting movie theaters Thursday night, Saeed Akbar was rolled up inside a sleeping bag on the cold concrete outside the Ultimate Electronics store in southeast Tulsa.
His mission? To be first in line -- despite the forecast of below-freezing temperatures -- at the electronics chain for a 50-inch plasma Panasonic HDTV wide-screen television offered Friday morning at $400 off its regular price of $1,399.
Akbar said he has waited overnight for a good deal in the past, but this year the Tulsa resident was looking to snag his first flat-panel TV.
As anticipated, many of Friday's best promotions were on electronics, jewelry, clothing and toys, according to the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group.
"Retailers knew they had to offer promotions enticing enough to get shoppers out of bed on a chilly day, and they delivered," NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin said Friday. "Though retailers are anticipating a challenging holiday season, they're encouraged by the enthusiasm
that their Black Friday sales generated."
Cold weather didn't deter shoppers here.
Hundreds of customers stood in lines that snaked at least two city blocks right before the 5 a.m. opening at Toys "R" Us on Memorial Drive near 71st Street. The toy retailer offered close to 100 early morning specials, four times as many as last year.
And at a nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter, cars were jammed into the huge parking lot by 5 a.m. The discounter slashed prices on TVs, digital cameras, computers and toys.
At Tulsa Promenade, parking lots on both sides of the J.C. Penney store were full 30 minutes after the retailer's first-ever 4 a.m. opening.
"It was unbelievable," said store manager Ron Kise. "We had more people between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. than we had between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. last year."
Shoppers snapped up many of the store's special Red Box gifts and doorbuster items, Kise said, as they took advantage of an extra 20 percent off sale-price fine jewelry, and discounts on home merchandise and shoes.
A $38.88 kids digital cam corder quickly sold out, he said.
"We're seeing between a 20 percent and 25 percent jump in sales over last year," Kise said. "Business is just there. It's very encouraging."
More than 132 million consumers may shop this weekend, the NRF said. Last year, 58.9 million people went shopping on Black Friday, with 49 million hitting stores the next day.
Black Friday originally referred to the day that many retailers went from being unprofitable, or "in the red," to being profitable, or "in the black."
Overall, flat-panel TVs are expected to remain one of the hottest-selling products for the holidays.
Americans upgrading from older analog TVs are estimated to increase U.S. sales by 85 percent to 21.3 million units, according to electronics research firm iSuppli. And a recent Consumer Electronics Association survey showed that big-screen TVs have moved into third spot on adults' holiday gift list, up from 11th place last year.
By 7 p.m. Thursday, 21-year-old Daniel Ordorica was sharing a pitched tent with friends outside the Circuit City store on East 41st Street, mulling over the electronics retailer's Friday sale flier.
"Last year I got a computer," Ordorica said. This year, an advertised 50-inch Samsung slim DLP high-definition TV for $799 -- at a $400 savings -- was to be his likely purchase.
Almost half of the shoppers during the three days after Thanksgiving will fall into the 18-24 age group, the NRF says.
True to the prediction, the majority of bundled-up campers huddled in groups Thursday evening fit that description at Best Buy on East 71st Street.
Roberta Allen, though, bucked the trend.
The Bixby mother pitched a tent and fired up portable heaters by the store's front door Wednesday, missing Thanksgiving dinner at home to be the first in line for Best Buy's opening at 5 a.m. Friday.
With four children and three grandchildren in tow, Allen and her family braved wind and cold temperatures to ensure their chances for a 42-inch Sony flat-screen TV and several Toshiba laptop computers with free printers priced at less than $250.
With only one computer allocated for each shopper, Allen said her family's long wait was worth the effort. The computers weren't advertised in the retailer's sales flier.
"We're in line because when you have the number of children I have, and they want these high-end items, this is the only way to do it," she said. "What I would have paid for one, I get four."
Once considered the busiest shopping day of the holiday season, the Friday after Thanksgiving often is eclipsed by the final Saturday before Christmas Day.
Stores could be especially crowded this year, though, with more consumers feeling the pinch of higher gasoline and food prices and searching for bargains.
Almost one-third -- 31.8 percent -- feel a financial pinch this year, compared with 18.5 percent last year, according to America's Research Group, a retail consultant firm based in Charleston, S.C.
The firm's research also showed that 47 percent of Americans said they were going to shop the day after Thanksgiving, compared with 32.9 percent last year. And about 52 percent expected deals to be better than last year.
This year, sales gains nationwide are expected to be the weakest in five years. The NRF's total holiday sales prediction of a 4 percent increase for the November and December period is the slowest since a 1.3 percent rise in 2002.
Holiday sales rose 4.6 percent in 2006, and growth has averaged 4.8 percent over the last decade, the NRF said.
Debbie Blossom 581-8387
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