Diane Townes waited in line for 12 hours to get her door-buster deals — printers, a laptop and a 50-inch television — so imagine her chagrin when it looked like she wouldn't be able to squeeze it all into her car Friday morning.
The Owings Mills nurse shivered in the cold at 5:30 a.m. outside the Towson
"It was worth it," Townes said.
More and more, participants in the annual day-after-Thanksgiving ritual of mass shopping are — like Townes — interrupting their holidays to start early. Lines for break-of-dawn
The expanded hours gave some shoppers a respite from the Friday crush seen in years past. While retailers were busy enough around 8 a.m. Friday that it seemed like a weekend day, stores were far short of frenzied.
"I feel like it's not nearly as crowded as it normally is," said Brent Ellick, 22, as he handed out promotional Monster Energy drinks to shoppers in front of an Elkridge Best Buy. "It's because everybody started Black Friday on Thursday."
That's just one way in which retailers' approach to Black Friday has radically changed.
This year, companies ramped up holiday-sale marketing campaigns soon after the Nov. 6 election, using social media such as Facebook, email campaigns and more traditional advertising to reach consumers. Many stores scheduled their door-buster sales in phases, sprinkling the starting times over multiple hours rather than all at once.
The early starts, staggered deals and stiff competition posed by online retailers "have spread sales and traffic out more this year than any other," said research firm Retail Metrics Inc. in a Friday afternoon report, calling the crowds that morning "decent but not great."
"It's totally different from before, a few years back," said Renato Scaff, a senior executive in the retail practice for management consulting firm Accenture. "Not only is it creeping up earlier, but it's parsed out into mini-promotions versus one big giant one."
The National Retail Federation is forecasting a 4.1 percent increase in holiday sales compared with last year, but Accenture says consumers surveyed about shopping plans are very budget-conscious. Shoppers expect to spend an average of about $580 on holiday purchases, a slight increase over last year, Accenture said.
"The dollars that are going to be spent through the holidays are going to be finite," Scaff said. "Retailers are starting early to get more market share and steal from each other — it's not driving additional dollars."
At the same time, more consumers told Accenture that they planned to shop this Black Friday after three years of declining interest in the phenomenon. Scaff said the shift is budget-driven: Shoppers are more likely to set money aside rather than run up credit cards and more likely than ever to buy only discounted items, so they looked to Friday as a way to score deals — not as the hot new thing.
"It's all competition on price," Scaff said.
The cutthroat struggle between big retailers doesn't make it easy on small stores trying to position themselves for some of the crowds. Christie Griffiths, owner of Brightside Boutique in Baltimore's
"I feel like everyone wakes up in the morning and goes to the huge department stores and the Best Buy and things like that," said Griffiths, whose boutique launched in January. "I'm just trying to figure out a time when they're coming in after all that."
Some Baltimore-area shoppers who turned out Friday were dead-set against having anything to do with the Thanksgiving retail creep. Shirlene Moss, 50, a data-entry worker from
"I boycotted going out yesterday," Moss said, pushing a shopping cart through
It was four hours after she and her 16-year-old daughter started their hunt for deals, and things had gone well for them. There was plenty of parking and speedy lines.
But the day wasn't problem-free.
Five men robbed a 14-year-old boy of his shopping bag outside Arundel Mills mall in
Arundel Mills wouldn't comment directly on the crime, instead releasing a statement saying that thousands of customers had been bargain-hunting "without incident since midnight," when the mall opened.
Around lunchtime, a security guard patrolled past the Bed Bath & Beyond on a Segway. Melody Creswell of
"There is no sale that is worth standing in line in the middle of the night," said Creswell, 41, who started the day at 6 a.m. "My kids don't need anything that badly."
Protests mingled with shopping this year as Walmart workers unhappy about hours, wages and working conditions walked off the job at some stores across the country Thursday and Friday — including those in Severn, Laurel and Landover Hills.
"The people who work for Walmart are in a hard place, a very difficult place," said Cynthia Murray, an employee at the Laurel store who is a leader with Organization United for Respect at Walmart, the group that helped organize the walkout. "A whole lot of things need to be better, but I think today was a really great day, because I think today, [store officials] finally are truly listening."
It's unclear whether the protests dinged Walmart's bottom line. The company said Black Friday crowds were larger than last year's and came on the heels of 22 million customers in the stores on Thanksgiving.
The "high traffic period" from 8 p.m. to midnight Thursday produced sales of almost 5,000 items per second, Walmart said in a statement.
On Friday, shoppers came and went in waves throughout the region. Lisa Bisenius, general manager of
That proved true at The Mall in Columbia, where parking lots and garages were nearly full at noon.
"Every year we say we're not going to [shop on Black Friday], and then we do it anyway," said Shirley Whitcomb, 66, of Glen Burnie, seated at a table in the food court with her family.
She'd already spent $600, a chunk of it on a
"I like to give," she said.
So does Jacqueline Hill of Baltimore, but she expects her spending will drop this year to $700, down from $1,500 last year.
With nine grandchildren to shop for, this was her bargain-hunting strategy: She went to Toys "R" Us while one of her daughters headed to Walmart and the other drove to
Hill, 54, was particularly happy with the
"Things are on sale, so I'm kind of staying within budget," she said.
Kelsey Richards, 16, finished her holiday shopping Friday. At lunch, she was taking a well-deserved rest on a bench near the Constellation at Baltimore's
The Rosedale resident figures he'll get started a bit closer to Christmas. Like
"It gives me more time to think," he said.