"My experience has been that most people are helpful, patient and excited," Ginn said. "That may be particular to the South, but I don't think so."

Collier and her mother even charmed a particularly long line into singing Christmas carols last year.

"My mom found one of those weird singing Christmas tree tats and wore it in line," she said. "The tree lit up and danced while she sang at the top of her lungs. Of course, that story preceded us to the next store on our list, where total strangers were talking about it."

HLN: Confessions of a Black Friday shopaholic

"I have learned over the years that you need to pack your patience and a sense of humor," when headed out on a Black Friday shopping trip, Elmore said. "If you don't have either, you are in for a miserable experience."

Impatience can result in stampedes or fights, which retailers are taking steps to avoid this year. WalMart, for example, is offering Guarantee Cards, which allow shoppers to get iPads, LCD TVs and Blu-ray players at Black Friday prices before they get their hands on the items. Shoppers will get the items before Christmas, so sellouts are theoretically no longer a reason for crowds to lose their cool.

The U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA group has issued Black Friday safety guidelines for retailers to avoid injury during the start of the holiday shopping season. And stores across the country are working with local law enforcement help to keep crowds safe and shopping.

The National Retail Federation estimates 147 million people will venture out this Friday, Saturday and Sunday to take advantage of holiday sales. President Matthew Shay said in a recent press release, "Though the Black Friday tradition is here to stay, there's no question that it has changed in recent years." No longer do shoppers wait to find out Black Friday promotions in the Thanksgiving Day morning paper, he said. Now companies provide information through social media, mobile apps and specialized websites.

Collier usually begins watching for Black Friday information online in mid-October. Blackfriday.com is a favorite of hers -- the site offers Black Friday ads and cash back on certain purchases -- but she won't forgo in-store shopping for online Cyber Monday deals. She prefers the in-person rush.

A few years ago, with a large outlet mall as her target, Collier and her mother could not find a parking spot at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. So they drove out of the parking lot and found a hotel parking lot behind the mall where they could leave their car.

"The mall was at the top of a hill, so we started hiking, literally," Collier said. At the top of the hill, they were suddenly faced with the town's drainage ditch. In order to make it to the Coach store, which was offering everything at 50% off, "we had to climb down the drainage wall and back up the other side," she said. "We laughed our way through our desperation and got to the mall."

And at 5 a.m., loaded down with bags full of Black Friday loot, she and her mother climbed back up the stone drainage wall on hands and knees.

Anything for a bargain.