* NRF sees holiday sales up 4.1 pct
* Mixed opinions on earlier hours
* Dirt Devils sell out before TVs
NEW YORK/CHICAGO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. shopping
frenzy known as "Black Friday" kicked off at a more civilized
hour welcomed by some shoppers this year, with retailers like
Target Corp and Toys R Us moving their openings
earlier into Thursday night.
While the shift was denounced by some store employees and
traditionalists as pulling people away from families on
Thanksgiving, many shoppers welcomed the chance to shop before
midnight or in the wee hours of the morning.
"I think it's better earlier. People are crazier later at
midnight. And I get tired at midnight," Renee Ruhl, 52, a hotel
worker, said at a Target in Orlando, Florida, where she was
already heading back to her car with an air hockey game loaded
in her shopping cart at 9:30 p.m., or 2-1/2 hours before the
chain opened last year.
Retailers have been in a race to get a kickoff to what is
considered the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season
as they try to fight for consumer spending that is not expected
to grow as much as last year.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc's U.S. discount stores, which have been
open on Thanksgiving Day since 1988, offered some "Black Friday"
deals at 8 p.m. local time and special deals on some
electronics, like Apple Inc iPads, at 10 p.m. Target
moved its opening from midnight to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Toys R
Us is opened at 8 p.m.
The earlier hours attracted customers who had not previously
considered braving the crowds on Black Friday, Jason Buechel, a
senior executive in Accenture's Retail Practice, said of his
observations from the malls. Warm weather was also likely
helping to bring out the crowds.
Big ticket electronics were not the only hot sellers.
At Macy's in Herald Square, the line at the Estee
Lauder counter was four deep shortly after its midnight
And at the Target on Elston Avenue on Chicago's Northwest
side, known as one of the highest-volume Target stores in the
entire chain, the $25 Dirt Devil vacuum that normally goes for
$39.99 was gone, while there were still several large
televisions. Items such as $2 towels were selling well, so were
blankets, kids' slippers and pajamas.
Store team leader Lee Crum said that it looked like people
who were there for the 9 p.m. event were staying longer.
"These are the folks that are Christmas shopping, you can
see it's a family event," he said. "At midnight it was one
person, coming in for one item."
The stakes are obviously high for U.S. retailers, which can
earn more than a third of their annual sales in the holiday
The National Retail Federation forecast a 4.1 percent
increase in retail sales during the November-December holiday
period this year, down from the 5.6 percent increase seen in
In a separate survey, NRF said 147 million people would shop
Friday through Sunday, down from 152 million on Black Friday
weekend last year. The survey did not say how many shoppers
planned to hit the stores on Thursday.
Consumers heading into the holiday shopping season remain
worried about high unemployment and possible tax increases and
government spending cuts in 2013. Also, lasting effects of
Sandy, the storm that lashed the densely populated East Coast in
late October, could cut into how much shoppers can spend.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, two-thirds of shoppers
said they were planning to spend the same amount as last year or
were unsure about spending plans, while 21 percent intend to
spend less and 11 percent plan to spend more.
Throughout stores, shoppers could be seen using smartphones
or other mobile gadgets to help them navigate and look for good
At a Walmart in Bloomington, Minnesota, Derek M, 26, said he
has used his smartphone to compare ever since the phone had that
He was at the store mainly to take advantage of a deal on a
Compaq AMD laptop for $179. He said he felt the deals were
slightly better this year. For instance, a basic laptop he
looked at last year was $199, he said.
Not everybody was happy with Black Friday starting earlier.
A petition asking Target to "save Thanksgiving" had 371,606
supporters as of Thursday afternoon..
Mike Labounty, 34, Lyndonville, Vermont, was shopping on
Thursday night for 32-inch Emerson televisions and other items
on sale at the Walmart in Littleton, New Hampshire, with his
partner, Darcy Mitchell.
"I think it should go back to Friday," he said. "It breaks
up families. Just look at us-our kids are with their
grandparents and they should be with us on Thanksgiving, but
we're here getting them a TV."
Some workers were also using the day to send a message.
OUR Walmart - a coalition of current and former Wal-Mart
staff seeking better wages, benefits and working conditions, has
staged months of protests outside stores and has targeted "Black
Friday" for action across the country.
For more Reuters holiday coverage: