Armed with store floor plans, stacks of coupons and money to spend, hordes of shoppers hit the malls early, late and every moment in between on Black Friday. Most important, they said they were buying more this holiday season than last.
Even so, shoppers said they had no intention of spending wildly this weekend and were still determined to score the best deals out there.
"We are in it to win it," said Ilene Agan, 27, who arrived at a Toys R Us in Torrance two hours before the store opened, hoping to score Barbie dolls for her daughters. "Go hard or go home."
On the biggest shopping day of the year, fights broke out in the food court at Los Cerritos Center and at a Best Buy in Burbank. At the Torrance Toys R Us the night before, latecomers tried in vain to bribe early-bird shoppers into letting them cut in line outside the store. At the Glendale Galleria and Westfield Century City, frustrated drivers reported circling the parking structures for an hour Friday looking for a spot.
It was a strong start for the crucial holiday season, with retailers and industry watchers reporting longer lines than last year and brisk business at the cash registers.
More mall madness is on the way this weekend as bargain-hungry shoppers scour the shelves for fresh discounts.
"The good news is that the retailers got a lot of traffic, and those that did come out came out to buy," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group. "If you're going to venture into those crowds and take those hours out of your normal sleeping, you're going to spend money. You'd have to be crazy to go out there and not buy."
At the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Elaine Tsai, 17, of Rancho Palos Verdes splurged on a pink faux fur jacket, marked down to $40 from $168, at the Urban Outfitters store.
"I waited in line for an hour. It's totally worth it," said Elaine, who spent a total of $300 at the apparel store. "There were girls in there dropping like flies, but you've got to get in there and get it done. There was a wave of people coming through the store like a tsunami."
Not everyone lucked out.
Burbank resident Januar Ponce, 18, arrived at the Best Buy store in Burbank on
Friday morning hoping to buy a 15.6-inch Toshiba laptop on sale for $190, down from $450.
But with about 1,000 people lined up before the doors opened at 5 a.m. — including some who had been there since Wednesday afternoon — the high school student was left empty-handed.
"I would have run for it and pushed people out of the way for a great deal like that," he said. "But I got here too late."
Industry experts are predicting the best holiday shopping season in four years, which they said could bolster the nation's slow recovery because consumer spending accounts for nearly 70% of U.S. economic activity.
There were early signs that Thanksgiving weekend was the kickoff that retailers were hoping for. The Disney Store said that on Thanksgiving Day, it had its highest-ever online sales volume. Mall executives at the Beverly Center said that foot traffic on Black Friday was up in the double digits over last year and that luxury items were selling well at full price. PayPal said that as of 11 a.m., it had seen 25% more payment volume than at the same time on Black Friday 2009.
But retail watchers cautioned that Black Friday is just one day out of a lengthy holiday shopping season. To keep the momentum going, "retailers will have new promotions and new opportunities to get people back in the store," said Jackie Fernandez, a retail partner at Deloitte & Touche. "They want to keep the interest of the customers because they know that today isn't going to be the [only] day that drives retail sales."
Unlike the strictly need-based shopping that dominated the last two holiday seasons, more people said they were buying for themselves and buying more discretionary items.
Even though she had a 7 a.m. flight to catch at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, 20-year-old Vanessa Barrera and her family rushed to Sears at South Coast Plaza in the middle of the night for a 55-inch Samsung television.
"We don't know if they even have it or if we're going to get it," the student from Santa Ana said. "Maybe I'm sacrificing too much for this TV. It's definitely a 'want' and not a 'need.'"
Black Friday is always marked by promises of huge discounts, early hours and massive crowds of shoppers. This year, as consumers have indicated they're more willing to spend, the nation's retailers have rolled out even more deals and spread them over several days instead of packing them all into the day after Thanksgiving.
"The stores have gotten better at recognizing the science of Black Friday and door-buster specials," Cohen said. "They're using the Internet, they're using different hours, they're rolling out some merchandise now and some tomorrow and some next week."