Dawn McKee of Tempe bought a couple of $100 flat-screen TVs, a $500 computer and “a lot of kid’s stuff,” from Wal-Mart at the crack of dawn.
“We feel like we really got some deals,” she said. McKee and husband Tracey left their teenagers home alone so they could share some together time and hit the day-after-Thanksgiving sales.
“We do this every Friday after Thanksgiving, ” Tracey McKee said. “We have a blast.”
Tradition, a spirit of adventure, a day off work and a search for bargains sent hundreds of thousands of holiday gift buyers into East Valley shopping centers Friday. Retailers touted giveaways and huge discounts on loss leaders to woo the crowds.
Some avid bargain hunters camped out at discounters doors in the middle of the night for the best deals. Heather Williams of Mesa, who headed for the shops at 4 a.m. with her mom, picked up a couple of $29 DVD players at Wal-Mart. Mom Phoebe Smith of Mesa got an $80 foosball table for $42.
But Camille Allen of Higley slept in and didn’t make it to a Mesa Best Buy until 7 a.m. She was planning to pick up several $20 DVD players. “We missed the sales,” she said. “Everything was gone.”
Super specials were selling fast everywhere.
The far north Scottsdale Target ran out of $166 portable DVD players by 9 a.m., store manager Ellie Bernards said. At the Finish Line in Scottsdale Fashion Square, the first customer in the door bought 25 pairs of shoes — mostly Nikes — in assorted sizes, said store manager Francis Charfauros.
“He said he had a big family, a lot of relatives,” Charfauros said. “And they (the shoes) were priced very well.” Kate Robinson of Scottsdale and her mother Janice Gray of Mesa had to split up Friday morning for the first time in the seven years the two have been shopping day-after-Thanksgiving sales together. The women spent Thanksgiving day clipping coupons and planning their strategy, but Target opened an hour earlier this year throwing a wrench into tradition.
“Target and Toys R Us opened at the same time,” Gray said.
By 8:30 a.m. the duo had teamed up, finished their bargain buying, stopped for a Starbucks and were browsing the mall shops for fun and the possibility of unearthing another deal or two. Robinson said she was pleased at the good buys she found at Target, including a Bratz styling salon for $31, half the standard retail price. But she said there were fewer great deals than expected at many of the stores.
Williams and Smith of Mesa said the same.
“We found a lot of bargains, but last year there definitely were more,” Williams said. Vanessa Karlson of Scottsdale, who dragged her new husband Glen and her mom to the shops at 6:30 a.m. Friday, said she was happy with her finds. Karlson picked up two pair of shoes for the price of one, and she got free shirts and underwear at Express and Victoria’s Secret.
“They (sales) are not as good as they have been in the past,” she said. “But we had our coupons.”
Retailers are hoping a recovering economy and improving consumer confidence will boost holiday sales this year. Darla Kelly of Scottsdale said she is upping her Christmas gift-buying budget this year.
“This year I have a better job with more pay,” she said. “I’ll have more money to spend, and I’ll spend it on family and friends.”
November and December sales, which were a huge disappointment last year, typically account for 25 percent to 40 percent of the annual take for many retailers. National industry experts are predicting a 4 percent to 6 percent increase in sales compared with last year.
They’ll look to the after-Thanksgiving weekend as a bellwether for the rest of the season. So far the signs are positive, local retail experts said.
“If the first couple of weeks (in November) are any indication, it will be fabulous this year,” said Donna Underwood, area manager for Discovery Channel stores in Arizona, which includes shops at Scottsdale Fashion Square and Chandler Fashion Center. “We’re all very optimistic.”
Underwood said traffic in the Scottsdale store was higher Friday than on the day after Thanksgiving last year. She is expecting the mid-December rush to be huge because Hanukkah falls late this year and shoppers will be buying up presents for both Hanukkah and Christmas at the same time.
At Fiesta Mall in Mesa, traffic Friday was “steady all day,” said Tami Ivy, marketing director. “We’ve seen lot of shoppers with lots of bags. And the handful of stores we've talked to seem to be happy and feeling confident.”
At Chandler Fashion Center, by mid-day the parking lot was 75 percent full and all the stroller vending machines were empty, said marketing director Karen Maurer. “This mall is packed with families, all (54) strollers are out in the mall,” she said. Also by mid-day, the valets had parked 350 cars and were expecting to park more than 1,000 by day’s end. A typical day’s business is 200 cars, Maurer said.
“There has been a steady stream of people going in and out,” she said. Maurer said the mall’s first customer of the day was camped out by the KB Toys at 1 a.m. and had shopped both KB and Radio Shack by 5:30 a.m.
By noon at Scottsdale Fashion Square, trendy shoe store Steve Madden had collected more than 100 coupons for its 25 percent off purchase, said mall marketing director Karen Litton. The store, which was supposed to open at 8 a.m. threw open the doors at 7:30 a.m. because some customers were already waiting to get in, she said.
And at Arizona Mills mall in Tempe, the traffic started slow but picked up steam as the day went on, marketing director Denise Hart said. By mid-day, traffic counts had exceeded last year’s and the parking lot was 90 percent packed, Hart said. And at the north Scottsdale Target, the entry of new-to-the-market Kohl’s didn’t seem to hurt business.
“It’s been great,” Bernards said. “We are exceeding our sales expectations by double.”