Early birds get head start on holiday shopping

NEW YORK - Many Americans took time away from Thanksgiving activities Thursday to get a jump on holiday shopping, snapping up bargains such as $98 color TVs and $99 DVD players.

Only a limited number of stores, like Kmart and Wal-Mart Super Centers, were open on the holiday. But early birds took advantage of the special deals they offered and avoided the crowds expected Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season.

''This is the first year really we've come out this early,'' said Sara Chapman, 21, a clerical worker from Sissonville, W.Va., who arrived at the Charleston Kmart at about 7 a.m. in search of ''bargains and sales.''

Kay McClanahan, also from Sissonville, was out shopping at 6:45 a.m. Her cart was overflowing with boxes and topped with bath towels within an hour. She also had a mountain bike - which she bought for her husband - lying on a low, wooden wheeled cart next to her.

As she examined a $99 DVD player, McClanahan said she hits Kmart every year because of ''the specials.'' She was also shopping for her 9-year-old son who wants a scooter and a robotic toy, which she will have to order on the Internet.

''I'm one of those people - the day after Thanksgiving, I'm at Toys R Us at five o'clock in the morning,'' she said. She plans to do that Friday.

Meanwhile, Lee Scott was on the hunt for good deals in the Atlanta area, and said he was overwhelmed by the heavy discounting on Thanksgiving. The Kmart where he was shopping was offering 19-inch color TVs for $98.

''I've been in Atlanta for 15 years, and I've never seen the prices so low, so many bargains,'' he said. ''It's not just at the malls. It's the supermarkets, the restaurants, Kmart, all over.''

Confronted with signs of sluggish consumer spending, retailers nationwide are banking on a combination of discounts and intense advertising to woo shoppers this holiday season.

''Christmas will be decent but not spectacular,'' said Kurt Barnard, publisher of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, based in Upper Montclair, N.J. ''You won't see the binge buying you saw last year.''

Barnard and other analysts expect about a 3 percent to 4 percent sales increase at stores this holiday shopping season, compared with 7 percent last year. Even online sales are slowing, with sales projections in December of $11.6 billion - up from last year's $7 billion, according to Jupiter Research. In previous years, holiday sales were known to double or triple.

After ringing up total sales of $186 billion on such items as DVD players and pashmina shawls last Christmas, retailers are less bullish this year. Rising fuel prices and the stock market's volatility helped make consumers much more cautious about spending on nonessentials. Earlier this month, the Conference Board, a New York-based research group, reported that the consumer confidence index fell sharply during October.

Clearly, financial pressures were on the minds of these bargain hunters Thursday.

''The markets are tanking - that just means down-the-road layoffs, right? Plus, we're kind of politically up in the air. I wouldn't say that it's smart to be spending all of your money,'' said Renee Barkan, a legal assistant from Henrietta, N.Y., who plans to spend ''substantially less'' this year.

''It's probably just wiser to be a little more parsimonious,'' she said.

Rochester resident Daniel Ross, 40, an engineer with three children, said: ''I'm cutting back. Nothing to do with the economy - actually, things are going quite well.''

''There are other things like college education and retirement that are a little bit more important,'' he continued. ''The merchants don't want to hear that, but a smart consumer will not live as though they're going to die tomorrow.''


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment