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Early start to US Black Friday shopping frenzy

Shoppers browsing at Macy’s in New York, yesterday. Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, has traditionally been the busiest shopping day in the US. Photo: Reuters

Shoppers browsing at Macy’s in New York, yesterday. Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, has traditionally been the busiest shopping day in the US. Photo: Reuters

The US shopping frenzy known as Black Friday kicked off at a more civilised hour, with shoppers welcoming decisions by retailers such as Target Corp. and Toys R Us Inc. to move their openings to Thursday night.

They also seemed to show little concern that the US economy could be pushed over a ‘fiscal cliff’, if a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January. Some economists fear that could lead to another recession.

Yet the National Retail Federation expects sales during the holiday season to grow 4.1 per cent this year.

The stakes are high for US retailers, who can earn more than one-third of their annual sales and 40 to 50 per cent of their profits during the holiday season, which generally starts with Black Friday.

“I think spending is better for the economy. I think you should spend. If you save all your money that will only make it worse,” said Saiful Islam, 21, a New York accounting student who stood in line at Best Buy to purchase a variety of gadgets. “The line is bad, but the deals are good.”

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, two-thirds of shoppers were planning to spend the same amount of money as last year or were unsure about plans, while 21 per cent intended to spend less, and 11 per cent planned to spend more.

Across the country, store lines were long though the move toward earlier opening hours appeared to have helped. By sunrise on Friday, it was commonplace, even at large stores in the major cities, to find many more staffers than shoppers.

While the shift was denounced by store employees and traditionalists because it pulled people away from families on the US Thanksgiving holiday, many shoppers welcomed the chance to shop before midnight or in the early morning hours.

Others were not as happy with an earlier Black Friday. A petition asking Target to “save Thanks-giving” had 371,606 supporters as of Thursday afternoon.

Some workers used 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 targeted ‘Black Friday’ for action across the country.

In Chicago, four busloads of protesters, including some Walmart workers, showed up at a store on the city’s South Side for a 7am protest.

The crowd chanted “Walmart, Walmart you’re no good, treat your workers like you should!” though their activities did not appear to deter shoppers.

The National Retail Federation said 147 million people would shop yesterday through Sunday, when deals are at their most eye-catching – down from 152 million the same weekend last year.

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