Retailers yesterday offered massive discounts to lure holiday shoppers, who obliged by packing stores and malls in the Black Friday tradition.
The slashed prices delighted shoppers who were looking for bargains to cope with the slumping economy.
“The merchants are cooperating,” said Margaret Fletcher as she pushed a cart full of items inside the T.J. Maxx store at Arundel Mills in Hanover, Md. “There’s hardly anything that’s full price, and this time of year that’s not always the case.”
At Wilson’s Leather in Arundel Mills, leather jackets normally retailing for as much as $300 were selling for $79.99. The chain’s Tysons Corner Center location also had large signs screaming out reduced prices. Major department stores such as Hecht’s, Sears, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdales offered discounts of 10 percent to 50 percent off.
DVD players at several electronics stores, usually costing upwards of $179, could be found for under $100. And at the Gap Outlet at Arundel Mills, everything in the store was 20 percent off.
Most retailers are expecting weak sales this year, according to Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a New York retail consulting firm.
Upscale department stores and clothing stores such as the Gap will suffer the most, Mr. Davidowitz said. Discount department stores such as Wal-Mart and specialty retailers, such as home goods store Bed, Bath & Beyond, will do well, he said.
Shoppers are expected to gravitate toward home furnishings and accessories because consumers are spending more time at home after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Davidowitz said. DVD players also will sell well because of “coccooning,” although sales for most other consumer electronics will be weak, he said.
“Overall, it’s going to be a poor Christmas,” Mr. Davidowitz said.
Holiday sales will rise 2.5 percent to 3 percent from last year, to $206 billion, the National Retail Federation projects. That would make this year’s retail growth the worst since 1990, when sales were basically unchanged.
Last holiday season, retailers rang up $201 billion in sales, up 3.9 percent from 1999.
“Black Friday” is so named because traditionally the day after Thanksgiving was the first day of the year retailers would post a profit. But the Thanksgiving weekend is no longer the busiest period of the season. Last year, the weekend accounted for only 8.6 percent of holiday sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
But still, chaos reigned yesterday morning as eager shoppers rushed into stores in an effort to grab sale items before they were sold out.
Wal-Mart, Sears and KB Toy Stores were hot spots early, attracting holiday shoppers with storewide sales beginning as early as 5 a.m.
“I just wanted to get a jump on things for my daughter before they really sold out,” said Jena Estes as she walked through the cluttered aisles of the Wal-Mart in Bowie yesterday morning. “So far, so good.”
At the KB Toy Store in Frederick, Md., doors opened at 5 a.m., and by 5:10 a.m. it was too crowded to get in, according to Dyan Delcoco, who bought several gifts there before heading to Arundel Mills in the afternoon, where there were fewer shoppers.
“This has really been nice,” Ms. DiCoco said of the afternoon crowds at Arundel Mills. “It hasn’t been crowded, and the lines haven’t been bad.”
The early morning crowds were not overwhelming everywhere.
“I live right down the street, so I snuck up here while everyone was sleeping,” said Bowie resident Ginny Mortimer, who found a Christmas tree at half-price at the Sears in Bowie Town Center.
Retailers are staying open longer this year as they do anything they can to improve sales.
For the first time, Kmarts will be open 66 hours straight, from 5 a.m. Friday until 11 p.m. Sunday. Sears’ 6 a.m. start time yesterday was an hour earlier than last year.
The afternoon crowd at Nordstom in Tyson’s Corner Center was not much larger than on a typical holiday or weekend day, sales representatives said. The only departments that had higher-than-usual traffic were the shoes and juniors areas, which had sales going on.
Fancy European sneakers that regularly cost more than $100 could be found for one-third of that price. Prices also were slashed for leather high-heeled boots and fashionable designer flats.
“I shop at Nordstrom all the time and trust me, it’s not every day you can get so many shoes for a good price,” said Tania Lewis, an Alexandria resident who spent several hours browsing through the department stores.
She has bought only one Christmas gift a wool scarf for her sister Iris but she had picked up a number of clothes for herself. And two pairs of shoes.
The Tysons shoppers were most attracted to sales, as shops offering discounts were fuller than others. Toy and electronics shops and women’s clothing stores were busy, although not all shoppers made purchases.
“I just had nothing else to do today,” said Lindsey Fray, who had the day off from work and didn’t want to stay at home with relatives after Thanksgiving. “I don’t think I’m buying anything for the holidays yet, but it doesn’t hurt to look around, right?”
Consumers browsing through the shops inside the National Press Building downtown seemed to share that sentiment.
While many shopped, others came to show support for the city, which has been suffering since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The D.C. government started a 10-day sales-tax holiday yesterday, which helped lure shoppers downtown. The campaign waives the 5.75 percent sales tax on clothes, shoes and accessories that cost $100 or less.
“I always come out when they get rid of the taxes,” said John Jones, carrying several bags from downtown shops. “For some reason, I get good stuff here,” he said of the shops at National Place. “Last year, most of the Christmas gifts for friends came from here.”
Lynn Shapiro had bought a sweater by noon, from Filene’s Basement. But she said she wasn’t looking to buy much other than perhaps a toy for her 3-year-old son, Toby.
“I’m shopping but not big,” Mrs. Shapiro said. She expects to spend as much on gifts as last year, but she plans to do most of her shopping next month online.
Internet sales are expected to rise 11 percent to $11.9 billion, according to online measurement group Jupiter Media Metrix.
For instance, customers at online retailer Amazon.com Inc. have ordered more than 9 million items since Nov. 9, the company said.
Amazon spokeswoman Kristin Schaefer Mariani would not discuss the pace of ordering yesterday but said the company expects strong holiday sales.
“The holiday season seems to be unfolding as expected. We’re definitely keeping busy,” she said.
Chris Baker contributed to this report.