Business

Friday, Nov 29 2013 07:03 PM

Black Friday seemed 'a lot less crowded'

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Gwen Wofford has her hands full while shopping at Macy's on Ming Avenue Friday morning with Christmas gifts for her children and others.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Janet Martin helps a Black Friday shopper at Macy's in Valley Plaza ring up her Christmas gift purchases in 2013.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Mercedes Macias has several pairs of slippers already picked out for the children while shopping in the clothing section of Macy's Friday morning.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Macy's clerk Janet Martin was in the Christmas spirit Friday wearing a Santa hat while helping customers make their purchases Friday at Valley Plaza.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Shoppers were looking for good bargains in the Valley Plaza Mall Friday.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Die hard shoppers who rose before the sun on Black Friday said they were glad a few key retailers had opted to offer door buster deals on Thursday night this year.

"It's a lot less crowded," said Connie Beauregard, 53, of Bass Lake, shopping at Valley Plaza mall early Friday. "Let everyone else ruin their Thanksgiving. Not us."

The deals were just as good on Friday, said Beauregard, who was in Bakersfield visiting relatives. She didn't feel like she missed anything by waiting a day.

"There's even coupons for a little bit off if you come back again," said her daughter, Courtney Beauregard, 34.

Kmart had opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving, Toys R Us opened at 5 p.m., and Kohl's, Sears, Macy's and JCPenney opened at 8 p.m.

Some Walmart locations even rolled out sales as early as Wednesday.

Spreading the sales out over several days instead of focusing them on one made crowds generally thinner at local chain stores.

There was still a traffic jam at the Ming Avenue exit on the 99 Friday morning, but as of 8 a.m. parking spots at Valley Plaza weren't hard to find, and the corridors of the mall were not impassable.

At 9 a.m., there were almost as many red-shirted employees inside the Apple store as there were customers.

Analysts said several factors could be contributing to the relatively light foot traffic reported elsewhere in the country, too.

"What we're noticing is this, and it's not a surprise: One, the cyber-sales are ramping up much sooner than cyber-Monday. The second factor is many of the chain stores were open, depending on state law, on Thanksgiving," said Chris Christopher, director of consumer insights at IHS Global Insights.

This holiday season, the battle for consumers' dollars has shifted to the web -- specifically mobile devices. According to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, overall online sales on Thanksgiving are up 19.7 percent in 2013 over the same period last year.

Mobile traffic, which includes cell phones and tablets, accounted for 42.6 percent of all online traffic, up more than 32 percent compared to the same period last year. Mobile sales remained strong, reaching 25.8 percent of all online sales, up 49 percent year-over-year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 4 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year, according to the Associated Press. That's higher than last year's 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession. Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits, as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores.

Back in Bakersfield, some local shoppers held fast to in-store shopping Friday, the traditional opening day of the holiday retail season.

"We just wanted to spend more time with our family on Thanksgiving, which is more important," said Jennifer Tolosa, 22, who was out shopping with relatives at the Northwest Promenade in northwest Bakersfield. They picked up two big-screen televisions and a sound system after hitting Best Buy and Walmart about 6 a.m.

Selena Artiaga, a cashier at Aeropostale, was grateful for the diluted Black Friday as she tried to entice passersby inside Valley Plaza with $12 sweaters and a 60 percent off sale storewide.

"Last night was just hectic, crazy and wild, but today it's just steady," she said. "It's fun."

Macy's manager Deena Cota said Friday's crowds were "manageable" but still strong. The department store chain was projecting this would be the fourth consecutive fourth-quarter growth year for the company, she said.

Gwen Wofford, 39, of Bakersfield, waited until Friday to shop, but she hedged her bets by getting to the mall at 5 a.m. Anchors were open at that hour, but smaller stores didn't open until 6 a.m.

Wofford picked up some shoes and clothes for her three children.

"I'm getting some good deals," she said, but nothing up to that point had really knocked her socks off. "I'm going to be going to a lot more stores, so hopefully they'll be a lot better."

Mercedes Macias, 34, was more of a risk taker, arriving at the mall at a leisurely 7 a.m.

The Thursday openings didn't even tempt her.

"I would rather spend it with my family, especially being too tired after cooking the big family dinner," she said. "I wanted to sleep in."

The shopping posse accompanying the Beauregards wasn't going to take it that far, rising at 4 a.m. to get to the mall early.

"It's tradition," said Shayann Casalman, 21, who coveted these annual shopping excursions as a child when her older relatives made Black Friday rounds without her.

"I came for the laughs," Casalman said. "We laugh a lot."

-- The Washington Post contributed to this story

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