Some shoppers lined up outside stores on Thanksgiving Day while a "post-pie shopping frenzy" on store websites drove online sales up more than 18% from last turkey day, says Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce. The "IBM Benchmark" tracks the websites of more than 500 leading U.S. retailers.
Henderson was one of the many people surfing the Web on their phones after Thanksgiving dinner. "My mom yelled at me for having my phone out at the dinner table," says Henderson, 38.
To compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores tried to make shopping as convenient as possible for consumers; many opened earlier Thanksgiving night to draw in shoppers who were unwilling to wait until midnight or the early-morning hours on Friday.
This year, Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. Sears, which didn't open on Thanksgiving last year, also opened at 8 p.m. Target opened at 9 p.m., three hours earlier than last year.
Many of the shoppers that came out Thursday had to alter their Thanksgiving dinner plans to accommodate their shopping plans.
Marguerite Dixon, 55, got to Toys R Us in Bailey's Crossroads, near Falls Church, Va., at 1 p.m. so she could be first in line for the Black Friday sales. Her family was waiting until she returned home to start Thanksgiving.
"My turkey and everything's going to be there when I get home," Dixon says.
She's hoping to score a scooter, books, board games and Xbox games for her grandchildren.
Ruth Cook brought her daughters, Sonia and Sabia Mughal, to get in line at Toys R Us at 2 p.m. They had Thanksgiving early so they could accommodate their shopping.
"We did it last year, but it's moving back," she says. Last year, Toys R Us opened at 9 p.m. On the shopping list: an MP3 player.
A short line of shoppers was waiting outside Michael's Crafts store in Palm Springs, Calif., when it opened at 4 p.m., PT Thursday. Shanna Hamilton of Palm Springs ate her Thanksgiving dinner at 1 p.m., left 4 friends at her home for a few minutes as she ran out to get a deal on the yarn she needed to finish making quilts for her family.
"I told them I'd be right back," the 61-year-old said, and they understood when she explained that she had a 30 percent off coupon. "I'd get up off my death bed for a coupon," she said with a laugh.
Ulysses Garcia, 20, was sitting on a camping chair outside the Best Buy store in Palm Desert, Calif., as his family ate Thanksgiving dinner Thursday evening. Missing the family meal was worth it to get a deal on a gift for his sister, the Palm Desert resident said. "They'll send me a plate," he said.
The shoppers that came out Thursday ran the gamut from first time Black Friday newbies to seasoned veterans.
At a Walmart in Chantilly, Va., Dan Ziewlinski was having his first Black Friday shopping experience and said it was a little overwhelming. He brought his son, Jack, 11, to help him score a 32" Emerson TV for Christmas.
"It's a surprise," says Ziewlinski, 47, covering Jack's ears. The two headed over to Walmart after cleaning up Thanksgiving dinner. They decided to buy the TV and an iPad 2.
Maribeth Gulakowski has shopped Black Friday sales with her sister Chris McLellan for the past twelve years. "Since the kids showed up, it's a tradition," says Gulakowski.
They say they're big fans of Walmart's one-hour in store guaranteed deals, like the iPad-2-plus-$75-gift-card deal they hope to score at the Chantilly Walmart.
"We drew the line at camping out," says Gulakowski. "But $100 dollars off is $100 dollars off," says McLellan.
Deserie Templeton and her two sons joined forces with neighbors and family to form a shopping team in Bossier City, La. Templeton described the scene at a Sears Thursday night as chaos. She went looking for a 50-inch Toshiba television on sale for $300 but came up empty-handed.
Most of her team is after televisions. "The deals aren't as good online," she said. "I mean, you can save hundreds."
Not everyone is thrilled with the earlier store openings on Thanksgiving as several retail employee groups are protesting the change.
Employees of retailers including Target, Walmart and Toys R Us have started or signed petitions on Change.org for Thanksgiving day off.
A New York City-based, union-backed group of retail workers called Retail Action Project planned protests on Thanksgiving in front of several stores, including Ann Taylor, Forever 21 and others that were opening at midnight on Black Friday and earlier.
"It shows that the companies are not valuing their workers. They're looking to their workers to squeeze out more profits," said Carrie Gleason, director of Retail Action Project.
The holiday shopping season is crucial for retailers and the National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales will rise 4.1% to $586.1 billion this year.
"This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession," NRF CEO Mathew Shay said in a statement.
The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because it 's when retailers traditionally get out of the red and turn a profit for the year.The NRF estimates that up to 147 million shoppers will visit stores and shop online over the Black Friday weekend.