After missing out on the giant $10 teddy bear at Target last year, Divya Jagannatha was determined not to end up empty-handed this time around.
She made a beeline for the box of bears when doors of the Eden Prairie store opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. And she got not just one, but three.
“It’s just for me,” she said, smiling, when asked who they were for.
But when she saw other shoppers looking for the bears, a popular item that Target sells only for Black Friday, she charitably offered her extras up to them.
Despite a rain that started falling in the Twin Cities around dusk, thousands of shoppers once again lined up outside big-box stores here and around the country in what has become a common sight as many stores start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night, offering deals on everything from big-screen TVs to headphones and pajamas.
Many, but not all, of the promotions were also available earlier in the day online for what has also become an increasingly big online shopping day.
Still, while the final numbers on Thanksgiving Day traffic won’t be in for days, some store managers said the crowds seemed larger.
“This line is actually a little bit bigger than last year, despite the rain,” said Paulina Son, a manager of the Target store in Eden Prairie, where there were several hundred people waiting to get in, many holding umbrellas.
Target CEO Brian Cornell, who spent the evening at stores in the New York region, said in a conference call with reporters that initial reports from around the country showed strong traffic in stores and online. Apple products, gaming systems, toys, sleepwear and hoverboards were big sellers, he said. Online sales saw double-digit growth during the day and could end up being one of the biggest — if not the biggest — online sales day to date for Target.com, he said.
“The site has performed exceptionally well,” he added. The work of the digital teams in improving the site is “paying big dividends.”
At Best Buy
Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly spent the night touring a half dozen stores around the Twin Cities with other top executives. His first stop of the night was the Eden Prairie store, where he greeted customers waiting in line, asking them what they were going to buy and where they were from. He got a wide range of answers — India to Mexico to Eden Prairie — to the last question from the diverse crowd.
“Thank you for being here,” he told them, and took selfies with a few.
Meanwhile, Best Buy store employees walked up and down the line calling out various doorbuster deals for which they were handing out tickets to help avoid a mad rush when the doors opened.
“We have a 55-inch Toshiba,” called out one employee.
“Anyone here for a Nikon camera?” yelled another.
Before the store opened, the store manager gave employees a pep talk inside, reminding them of the store’s revenue goals for the weekend and offering an inspirational quote by Theodore Roosevelt. Joly got applause when he hopped up on the counter to offer a couple of his own words of encouragement.
“You’re not just going to sell products tonight,” he said. “You’re going to change people’s lives.”
One of the first people in line was Alan Rubio, 19, of Eden Prairie. He arrived around 7 a.m. with his brother and cousin, 10 hours before the store was set to open. He was there for one of the most in-demand items of the night — a 49-inch Toshiba 4K TV for $199.
It will be a gift for his mother, he said.
“She’ll be surprised,” he said. “She thinks I’m just getting something for myself.”
Upbeat shopping forecast
Retailers are hoping for a big Black Friday weekend, one of the top shopping events of the year, after a month in which many consumers were distracted by election season angst.
Many industry firms have forecast a more upbeat holiday season, with projections calling for a 3 to 4 percent increase in spending amid higher wages and lower unemployment rates.
An estimated 137 million shoppers — or 59 percent of Americans — are planning to shop this weekend, slightly more than last year, according to an annual survey for the National Retail Federation. About 21 percent of Black Friday shoppers planned to shop in stores or online on Thanksgiving Day.
While shopping on Thanksgiving has been a phenomenon for the past several years now, the trend has not been without pushback from Americans who lament that employees are working on the holiday instead of spending time with their families. This year, Mall of America was among those that said no to staying open on Thanksgiving. Other national chains such as Office Depot and Hhgregg did the same.
But most regional malls and big-box chains stuck with their Thanksgiving Day openings, saying that shoppers like to get their holiday shopping started after they finish their turkey dinners in what has become a new family tradition. J.C. Penney was one of the earliest to open Thursday, at 3 p.m., followed by Best Buy and Macy’s at 5 p.m. Several retailers such as Target, Sears, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and many malls followed at 6 p.m.
About 15 minutes after Best Buy opened its doors, Karen Bailey of Minneapolis was standing near the front of the store, texting her sisters, children and nephews who were spread throughout the store. Shopping is a tradition for her family after they finish their Thanksgiving meal. But she doesn’t like to wait in line for hours outside.
“We literally drove in the parking lot at 5,” when the store opened, she said. “There’s nothing I’m that desperate to buy.”
She has mixed feelings about the stores being open on Thanksgiving.
“I liked it when Thanksgiving was just Thanksgiving,” she said. “But I’m here and I’ll spend money, I’m sure.”
While she didn’t plan to hit stores on Black Friday, she was hoping to make it out to some local businesses the following day for Small Business Saturday.