Black Friday: Stores could see record number of shoppers

@CNNMoney November 25, 2011: 3:07 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Despite some backlash against early store openings on Thanksgiving Day, retailers could see a record number of shoppers as Black Friday 2011 got underway.

There were big crowds across the country as doors opened. Almost all the openings were without incident, but in Porter Ranch, Calif., 10 people suffered minor injuries at a Walmart store due to what a Los Angeles City Fire Department spokesman called "rapid crowd movement."

An estimated 152 million people are expected to shop over Black Friday weekend, up 10% from last year, according to a recent report from industry trade group the National Retail Federation.

And even that generous estimate is likely to fall short of the actual number, noted Kathy Grannis, an NRF spokeswoman. Last year, the organization estimated there would be 138 million shoppers over the long weekend, when 212 million actually showed up -- a record high.

"Black Friday will be strong because so many stores are opening Thursday and that gives consumers at least six more hours to shop," said Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based consulting firm. "It will also attract people who may be willing to go out Thursday night, but aren't about to get up early Friday morning."

Among the major big box stores, Toys R Us will kick off its Black Friday sales at 9 p.m. Thursday night, followed by Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) at 10 p.m. Then, at the stroke of midnight, Target (TGT, Fortune 500), Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500), Macy's (M, Fortune 500) and Kohl's (KSS, Fortune 500) all plan to open their doors.

The critical shopping day generally sets the tone for consumer spending throughout the holiday season. Many retailers took a gamble by opening earlier, even though some consumers and retail workers rallied against the encroachment into Thanksgiving Day.

A small segment of the Occupy Wall Street movement has also suggested a boycott of the major retailers on Black Friday "to send an economic message to big business and banks that profits over consumers is not good business," according to the site stopblackfriday.com. Although that's unlikely to gain much momentum, retail experts say.

"I don't think it's going to have any impact on consumer spending for Christmas," said Britt Beemer, retail analyst and chairman of America's Research Group, "unless protestors happen to be blocking the entrance of a store," he added.

For hard-core Black Friday shoppers, like Joe Casillas, 29, nothing will stand between him and this year's doorbuster deals. On Monday, Casillas brought his tent and camping equipment to his local Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) in Porter Ranch, Calif. so he could camp out in line until the doors opened at midnight on Thursday.

Black Friday predictions: What should you buy?

"I've been doing this with my friends for about 10 years," Casillas said. "Black Friday has become more of a tradition than Thanksgiving."

Toys and electronics are likely to be the biggest draws this year, experts say.

"This is going to be the most promotional holiday period for electronics of the last few years," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at the NPD Group. He pointed to deals like the Xbox 360 console with Kinect at Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) for $199, Target's (TGT, Fortune 500) Westinghouse 46-inch LCD HDTV for $298 or the Sharp 42-inch LCD HDTV at Best Buy for $199.

In fact, LCD TV prices are expected to hit an all-time low this Black Friday, according to DisplaySearch.

Along with the great deals, will come hoards shoppers seeking bargains, said Baker.

But as for the holiday's most coveted gift -- tablet computers, like Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPad -- don't expect any significant discounts, he added.

As for toys, popular brands like LeapFrog and Crayola will be greatly discounted at Toys R Us and elsewhere which will really drive toy sales, said Jim Silver, editor in chief of TimetoPlayMag.com.

"In this economy, everybody shops for bargains and Christmas comes every year -- those two things aren't going to change," he said.

To that end, retailers are also increasing the number of Black Friday deals offered online between now and Cyber Monday. Stores like Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) are offering up to 95% of their Black Friday ad items online for the same price, according to Brad Olson, founder of Gottadeal.com, a site that markets itself as one of many "official" Black Friday deal sites.

But with limited inventories this year, the only way to ensure that you score a coveted discount may mean lining up outside your store of choice anyway.

That's all the reason most Black Friday shoppers need, Corlett added. It's not really about the doorbusters, she said. "People are out there for the sport of it all." To top of page

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