The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season began on Thursday, when many national retailers opened their doors and offered major sales. It kicked into high gear on Friday, when many more stores entered the fray. We’re capturing the experience with reporters and photographers around the country, showing what it looks and feels like at American shopping malls, retailers and discount stores. You’ll also find:
■ Stories of shoppers and what brought them out to the stores.
■ Shopping tips from The Wirecutter, a product review and recommendation site owned by The New York Times Company.
■ Shopping by the numbers: history and facts about Black Friday, as the day after Thanksgiving is often called.
Scenes From Central Florida
As she strode toward the bustling entrance of a Walmart store in Apopka, Fla., a suburb of Orlando, shortly after 6 p.m. on Thursday, Juliana Hoffman’s cellphone rang. It was her boyfriend, already inside the store, and he had a problem.
“Someone stole your shopping cart?” she asked, aghast. “That’s not nice!”
He asked her to track one down in the parking lot, where dozens of vehicles searched, largely in vain, for spaces. “You want me to find a shopping cart,” she said, sighing. “That would be a golden item right now.”
Ms. Hoffman, a native of Fortaleza, Brazil, who lives in Winter Springs, Fla., had already been through some aggravation earlier at a Toys “R” Us outlet, where another shopper lost his cool with her after she bought the last available Nintendo 3DS game system in the store.
“He was upset with me,” she said. “I told him, ‘Look, I’m sorry, but I was here first.’ He stomped off, shouting, ‘This is a waste of time!’”
Inside the Walmart, an older woman pushing a heavily laden cart struggled to find her way to the cash registers through the maze of shoppers crammed in the store’s aisles.
“I’m 72 years old,” announced the woman, Ora Dixon, with what seemed like both pride and resignation. “I’m too old for this. I can’t get past all those young people — I’d pass out.”
Mrs. Dixon, who spent 41 years working as a machine operator in an envelope factory in Jacksonville, Fla., had bought a slow cooker, two skillets, a blender and several sets of sheets, all of them gifts for family members.
“I don’t need any of this stuff,” she said. “I don’t even cook.”
By the time she reached the line for the cashier, Mrs. Dixon was tuckered out. But then she spied a deep fryer in another shopper’s cart. “Oh, I really wanted one of those,” she said, audibly enough for everyone to hear. “But it’s too far to back and get it.”
There was a pause while the other shopper, Antoinette Bolden, a food and beverage hostess at Disney World, thought about it.
“Here, take it,” she said to the older woman. “I wanted it but I don’t absolutely have to have it.”
An effusively grateful Mrs. Dixon retrieved the fryer from the other cart, which also contained two 40-inch flat-screen televisions and various other items.
“You don’t find that kind of courtesy these days,” Mrs. Dixon said. “That’s so nice.”
Black Friday Wedding Shopping in Texas
Sierra Sproul, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher in Austin, Tex., had a special incentive to take advantage of Black Friday discounts at her local boot retailer: her upcoming Western-themed wedding on April 8.
“I’m very excited,” she beamed as she and her mother wrapped up a purchase of brown floral Corral-brand boots (which came to $199 after a 20 percent discount).
In all, the pair spent more than $500 at Cavender’s Boot City in north Austin after adding a $180 hat and $159 boots for her fiancé, Shane McPherson, whom Ms. Sproul lovingly described as “very country.”
She and her mother said they had purposely waited for Black Friday to offset wedding costs with hefty discounts.
“If we can get boots for a percentage off, that’s good because they don’t go on sale very often,” Ms. Sproul said.
Many of the other customers in the store were looking at western items as likely Christmas gifts, according to Robert Garcia, the store’s manager.
Shopping Tips From The Wirecutter
■ Decide whether you’re going to focus on buying online or offline because it’s very difficult to do both.
■ Make a shopping list before you look at the ads. What exactly do you need, and what are some things you’d want if they hit the right price?
■ Do your research. Check early Black Friday ads. Are the stores you’re looking at going to carry what you want? Will it only be offered online or offline? Will it be only at a certain time?
■ Check your shopping list and look at the offers retailers have, then look at recent prices for the items. Are they really deals, or could you have bought them for the same prices for the last three months?
■ Double-check the exact model number before buying. Are you 100 percent sure it’s the one you want? It may look the same, but a small difference in a stand mixer’s model number may mean you’re getting one with half the power.
■ Writing down prices of things you need or want is important because many retailers have time-limited promotions where you may have only two minutes to make a decision. If you know the price you are willing to pay in advance, then there’s less chance you’ll be fooled by a bad deal.
■ If you’re shopping online, make sure you’ve updated your address and billing information, and if possible, use one-click shopping at the sites that support it. You don’t want to fumble around entering a credit-card number.
■ Make sure you are on the right page and are ready to purchase a couple minutes before the deal is supposed to be active. Many of the best offers sell out immediately.
■ Be sure to check the sites for updates. Even if you miss a deal, many retailers will put it up again. We’ve seen a lot of deals repeating among Thursday, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Where Are the Hatchimals?
FREEHOLD, N.J. — Families packed the Walmart here on Thursday evening, fliers in hand and a mission in mind. For many, the targets were similar: Samsung Smart TVs, PlayStation 4 and one of this year’s must-have toys, the furry and interactive Hatchimal.
“I was here at 3:30 and I’m just mad because I didn’t get my Hatchimal,” said Amalia Teixeira, 52, a retired police officer from Manalapan. “Now my daughter will have to wait till January.”
Sunny Singh, 30, an assistant manager, confirmed that the store sold out of the eight or so Hatchimals in stock early in the day. The toy is a robotic bird that hatches out of an egg. The price starts at about $60.
Still, Ms. Teixeira said the crowds this year seemed lighter and less frenzied. While foot traffic was fairly heavy, it was also orderly.
“Last year, we walked out with about $2,000 worth of stuff — this year it’s only about $700,” Ms. Teixiera said.
Several other shoppers also noticed a slower pace than they had predicted.
“It’s less intense than I was expecting, and this is the busy Walmart in the area,” said Martine Similien, 31, of Freehold, which is about 30 miles east of Trenton.
“I expected the mob scenes from the commercials,” said Patricia Davis, 34, of Freehold.
Original Post by: nytimes.com