UPDATE 6-U.S. shoppers welcome early start to 'Black Friday'

Phil Wahba and Dhanya Skariachan
Reuters Middle East

* Some stores move to earlier openings, on Thurs night

* National Retail Federation sees holiday sales up 4.1 pct

* Group says number of shoppers should fall slightly

* Protesters challenge early opening hours, wages

NEW YORK/BLOOMINGTON, Minn., Nov 23 (Reuters) - U.S.

retailers declared their experiment with earlier store openings

to kick off the holiday shopping season a success on Friday,

with those new hours expected to be a Thanksgiving night staple

for more retailers next year.

Stores such as Target Corp opened hours before

midnight on Thursday to try to capture a bigger piece of the

retail pie. The move seemed to bring out a different type of

shopper than the usual one who grabs the "Black Friday" deals,

analysts said.

That meant by Friday morning, some shoppers, like Christian

Alcantara, 18, at a J.C. Penney Co Inc store in Queens,

New York, had already made a lot of their purchases. J.C. Penney

stuck to a more traditional 6 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) Friday


"They should open earlier. I've been everywhere else and

I've already shopped," he said.

Shoppers like Alcantara are likely to force holdouts like

J.C. Penney to move their post-Thanksgiving sales into Thursday

night next year, said Liz Ebert, retail lead at consulting firm


"There will be pressure on them. There'll be an expansion of

it next year," Ebert said.

Hard data on "Black Friday" store traffic will not come in

until this weekend. But analysts said retailers who opened early

brought in a non-traditional Black Friday shopper, with more

families coming in together and buying more than just the

"doorbuster" sale items.

"I've never seen parents bring so many kids on Black

Friday," Toys R Us Chief Executive Jerry Storch said.

The National Retail Federation expects sales during November

and December to rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year's

5.6 percent increase. That made store operators' strategy

important as they battled each other, rather than seeing a

growing pie in a season when U.S. retailers can make a third of

their annual sales and 40 to 50 percent of their profits.

"Retailers want them to buy now, they want to get that share

of wallet early," said Michael Appel, a director at consulting

firm AlixPartners. He noticed that the Galleria Mall in White

Plains, New York, was busy from midnight to 3 a.m., but that

traffic, while still brisk, was less heavy by midmorning.

Shoppers used smartphones and tablets and a lot of research

as they hit stores, a mobile phenomenon that started last year

and seemed to be more prevalent this year.

Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist and a senior

executive adviser with Booz & Company's Retail practice, was

waiting on line with one woman in Phoenix, who was shopping for

a refrigerator. Using her mobile device, she found the appliance

online for the same price and left the store without. She

intended to buy it online instead.

"There's a fundamental transformation of shopping," he said.

Mobile devices account for 45 percent walmart.com traffic

and online traffic coming from Walmart's mobile app was three

times bigger than last year, Joel Anderson, chief executive of

Walmart.com, said.

Overall, online sales were up 20 percent versus the same

period last year, through 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) on Friday, IBM


The National Retail Federation said 147 million people

would shop Friday through Sunday, when deals are at their most

eye-catching - down from 152 million the same weekend last year.

The NRF estimate did not account for Thursday shoppers and

anecdotal evidence suggested retailers opening earlier may have

cut into traffic on "Black Friday", the traditional start of the

holiday season that denotes the point when retailers in the past

would turn a profit for the year.

"People seemed to be shopping quite a bit, although in

talking to mall management, it seemed that traffic was not as

busy as last year," Deloitte retail analyst Ramesh Swamy said.

Retailers were also using technology better, allowing sales

staff to match prices customers found online and having them use

tablets as mobile "checkout stands" so buyers did not have to

wait in line, a service consumers were quickly coming to expect.

"I even heard customers complaining about a retailer that

didn't have mobile checkout," he said.


According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, two-thirds of shoppers

were planning to spend the same amount of money as last year or

were unsure about plans, while 21 percent intended to spend

less, and 11 percent planned to spend more.

"I definitely have more money this year," said Amy Balser,

26, at the head of the line outside the Best Buy store

in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. "I definitely

don't think (the economy) has bounced back anywhere near as much

as it needs to, but I see some improvement," she said.

For others, Christmas is the focal point of their annual


"We cut back spending on birthdays and anniversaries so we'd

have more for Christmas. We've adapted," said Cheri Albus, 58,

of Papillion, Nebraska, after shopping at J.C. Penney at

Westroads Mall in Omaha.

Retail stocks rose in holiday-shortened trading on Friday,

in line with gains across the market. Among the leaders,

Wal-Mart ended up 1.9 percent and Macy's Inc rose 1.8 percent.


Across the country, store lines were long - in the hundreds

or more in many places - with the move toward earlier opening

hours appearing to help. By sunrise on Friday, it was

commonplace, even at large stores in the major cities, to find

many more staffers than shoppers.

While the shift to earlier openings was criticized by store

employees and traditionalists because it pulled people away from

families on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, many shoppers

welcomed the chance to shop before midnight or in the early

morning hours.

Some workers used the day to send a message.

OUR Walmart - a coalition of current and former Wal-Mart

staff seeking better wages, benefits and working conditions -

targeted Black Friday for action across the country after

staging protests outside stores for months.

Nine protesters were arrested on misdemeanor charges after

blocking a street outside a Walmart near Los Angeles, police

said. Three of those arrested were Walmart workers, OUR Walmart


Wal-Mart Stores Inc's U.S. discount stores, which

have been open on Thanksgiving since 1988, offered some Black

Friday deals at 8 p.m. on Thursday and special deals on certain

electronics, such as Apple Inc iPads, at 10 p.m.

At the Macy's store in Herald Square in Manhattan, the line

at the Estee Lauder counter was four deep shortly after

its midnight opening. The cosmetics department's "morning

specials" included free high-definition headphones with any

fragrance purchase of $75 or more, and a set of six eye shadows

for $10.

But for some people, cheap wasn't cheap enough - like the

Macy's shopper who bought Calvin Klein shoes at 50 percent off

but was still not satisfied.

"I was hoping for deeper discounts," said Melissa Glascow,

35, of Brooklyn, New York.

That could actually be an intentional strategy to help

retailers' profits.

"It appears that manufacturers and retailers are making

concerted efforts to drive margins, which may take some of the

sales sizzle out of a traditionally big selling day/period, but

should be positive to gross margins," Credit Suisse analyst Gary

Balter said in a note to clients.

Lines at Best Buy stores were similar to last year but the

traffic to its website was "significantly" higher, Shawn Score,

head of the company's U.S. retail business, told Reuters.

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