Shoppers came out in force for Black Friday sales that started as early as 6 a.m. Thursday.
Despite some protests over stores plans to open up ever earlier on Thanksgiving Day, plenty of shoppers took to big-box retailers as soon as they opened for business.
Walmart in Turlock still had a line of people waiting to get in 30 minutes after the specials there started at 6 p.m. Major retailers like Best Buy, Target and Macys reported similarly busy conditions as shoppers got a head start on a holiday shopping season compressed by a week compared with last year.
But by 4 a.m., plenty of parking spots were visible in lots at various stores. Vintage Faire Mall seemed busy but not packed, about what one might expect to see on a midmorning during the week. Employees said the big rush came when many stores opened at midnight, and when anchor stores opened at 8 p.m.
Modestan Daniel Butler, 34, bought his first home in October, in the La Loma neighborhood, so Black Friday for him was an opportunity to help fill it up.
Of course, the deals started even earlier than Friday, so Butler was shopping from Wednesday afternoon to late Friday afternoon, taking breaks to sleep and have Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
Butler said that earlier in the week, he spent three to four hours reading advertisements and formulating a Black Friday plan of attack.
He got kitchen utensils at Big Lots and a kitchen table at Kmart and ended his shopping spree Friday with a new mattress, but the biggest purchase was the two 50-inch televisions he and his girlfriend purchased at Walmart on Thursday night. They were $288 apiece.
Butler stood in many lines to get to those televisions. There was the line to get through the front door and one to get a wristband for the sale item, which got him into another line, where the wristband was traded for a ticket voucher, which was used to ring up the television after he waited in line at the cash register.
I probably saved $3,000 or $4,000 (in all), so it was worth the couple of hours waiting in line, Butler said.
Nationally, more than a dozen major U.S. retailers stayed open for 24 hours or more on Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday, and crowds formed early and often over the two days.
This year may cement the transformation of the start of the holiday shopping season into a two-day affair.
For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start of the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was originally named Black Friday because it was when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black. Retailers opened early and offered deep discounts.
But in the past few years, store chains have been opening on Thanksgiving.
This year, several welcomed shoppers for the first time on Thanksgiving night, while Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened half its stores earlier on the holiday.
Walmart stores, most of which stay open 24 hours, have for the past several years offered door-busters that had been reserved for Black Friday. And Kmart planned to stay open 41 hours starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
That has led some to question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving, which along with Christmas is one of only two days a year that most stores are closed.
Black Friday is now Gray Friday, said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.
The earlier openings have met with some resistance. Workers rights groups and some shoppers had planned protests on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to decry the way some store employees were forced to miss holiday meals at home. Some arrests were reported at a protest in front of a Roseville Walmart on Friday.
Its unclear whether the early openings will lead shoppers to spend more over the two days or simply spread sales out.
Last year, sales on Thanksgiving rose 55percent from the previous year to $810million, as more stores opened on the holiday, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8percent to $11.2billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.
Store sales numbers wont be available until today. The National Retail Federation said 140million people planned to shop during the four-day holiday weekend.
IBM Benchmark, which tracks e-commerce for 800 retailers, said online sales on Thanksgiving were up 19.7percent from last year. Online sales on Black Friday rose 9percent, based on preliminary data.
There are signs that stores fared well, too.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the worlds largest retailer, started its holiday sales events at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. Wal-Mart said customers bought at least 2.8million towels, 2million TVs, 1.4million tablets, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9million dolls.
Terry Lundgren, Macys CEO, said the 15,000 people who showed up for the opening of the flagship store in New York was the most ever, up from 11,000 last year. Clearly people are in the shopping mood, he said.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy contributed to this report.