More than 130 million Americans are expected to shop this Black Friday - a frenzied event that has become as much a part of our Thanksgiving culture as turkey and stuffing.
The big difference is that Black Friday is no longer just one day, but a drawn-out sale that starts earlier and lasts longer, and is considered a Hail Mary for retailers to break even for the year.
Experts say consumers can expect earlier sales and promotions, deeper discounts, and more online clicks this year compared with last year's five-day, shop-till-you-drop weekend that started on Thanksgiving and ended on Cyber Monday.
Sumera Rembert, 43, of Woodbury, who had camped in a tent outside the Best Buy across from Deptford Mall since Tuesday afternoon, was representative of the shoppers' zeal that merchants are banking on for a successful season.
"I wanted to ensure I got what I came after," Sumera said Thursday while she was No. 2 in a long line of shoppers waiting for the store's 5 p.m. opening. Her list included a Samsung 4K Ultra-HD TV for $799.99, a Toshiba 49-inch LED TV for $149.99, and a Sony PlayStation 4 for $429.99.
Mission accomplished. By 6:20 p.m., she had everything on her list and was loading up her SUV.
Long lines formed outside J.C. Penney stores throughout the region, some as early as noon for the chain's 3 p.m. opening, beating out Kohl's, Target, and Macy's, which opened at 6 p.m.
"It was worth it," said Kiran Patel, 42, of Yardley, who shortly after 3 p.m. was leaving the J.C. Penney at Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne with pillows and towels that had been marked half off.
Ready to spend
The public's buying mood is better than last year, and experts say shoppers are being pulled toward value pricing in a way that wasn't seen in 2014.
Holiday spending in general is expected to rise 3.7 percent this year, to $630 billion, or an average of about $805 per shopper, according to the National Retail Federation. Shoppers spent on average $802 per person in 2014.
"We are calling for a modest increase in holiday sales of 2 to 3 percent over last year," said James Cook, who works for commercial real estate consultant Jones Lang La Salle. "Shoppers want as much convenient shopping options as they can get, and retailers seem to be falling over themselves to offer them."
"We surveyed several hundred retailers this year, and about 80 percent told us they would make up to 40 percent of their total holiday sales" between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Cook said.
What's more, some retailers are overstocked, leading to earlier sales and promotions this season, experts say.
Walmart began its promo, "eight weeks of deep savings," on Nov. 1. Instead of the short-lived, limited-quantity deals that are used to get shoppers to act quickly, Walmart promised fewer "this weekend only" sales and a broader selection of special "rollback" prices that will last at least 90 days.
Target also launched major sales initiatives Nov. 1. Among them, users of its Cartwheel app will get 25 percent or more off hundreds of items, and each day from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24, a different toy will be half off.
Best Buy and Target both are offering free shipping on all purchases, no minimum purchase required, over the holiday season.
Staples was closed on Thanksgiving, but planned to open at 6 a.m. Black Friday. Meanwhile, outdoors specialty retailer REI closed not only on Thanksgiving, but also on Black Friday. Both are hoping a family-friendly strategy will help boost future sales.
"Overall, we're expecting a good weekend and good numbers," said Bill Park, head of the Philadelphia retail division for consulting firm Deloitte.
He said he expects sales to be up 25 percent this Black Friday weekend, including Cyber Monday, from last year.
But Park said he wasn't expecting long lines like previous years.
"The concept of going out at 4 a.m. is a thing of the past," he said. "It's now an elongated shopping season. People are thinking, 'I don't have to go out to the store and wait in line. I can get it online.' "
About 82 percent of American consumers will research products and compare prices online this year, according to a Deloitte survey of 4,009 national consumers that was done from Sept. 11 to 22.
"What we're up against is the Black Friday event is no longer a 24- or 48-hour event," said Keith Jelinek, senior managing director for the retail and consumer practice at Washington-based FTI Consulting. "We've seen many retailers start their advertising earlier and extend it later into next week.
"They are spacing it out, and the consumer has multiple choices as far as where to shop - either a mall, stand-alone store, or going online," he said. "Knowing this, they've become very wise on pricing."
Kristan Nalley, 40, of Newtown, had planned to go shopping after dinner Thursday night, a tradition for her and her son, Hunter Pippin, 16, going back seven years.
"I bet it's going to be crowded all weekend," she said. "I think people are feeling better about things, including their jobs and the economy."
Retailers look forward to Black Friday weekend to help get them in the black (hence the day's name), and break even for the year, revenue-wise.
For them, it will be a full-court press over the next 30 days to make their numbers, and shoppers stand to benefit.
Amazon is getting into the spirit by extending its holiday deals an additional eight straight days beginning on Black Friday. It will also offer "Lightning deals" starting Saturday, and 10 Deals of the Day on Cyber Monday, its biggest day of the year.
Last year on Cyber Monday, Amazon customers worldwide ordered more than 43 million items, a record-breaking 500 items per second.
Digital shopping is expected to rise about 12 percent this year, lifting the overall proportion of online sales to nearly 15 percent of total retail activity, or $1 out of every $7 that consumers lay out this holiday season.
Not all online
Mary Wynne, of Spring City, a self-described "shoe-aholic," was at King of Prussia Mall on Wednesday for Primark's grand opening. The Dublin, Ireland-based apparel discounter has plans to open 10 stores in the East Coast in the next 12 months. King of Prussia was its second opening, after Boston in September.
The expanding retailer sells high volume at rock-bottom prices and wants to cut into H&M and Forever 21's following. It chose to debut at the region's largest mall on the eve of shopping's biggest weekend. Two more Primarks will open next year, at Willow Grove Mall and Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, N.J.
Primark does not sell online.
"I love bargains, and I love this store," said Wynne, 54, of the 80,700-square foot Primark. Within 10 minutes of the store's opening, she already had four pairs of shoes in her shopping bag.
"I'm just getting started," she crowed.
Black Friday Tips
To take advantage of doorbusters, the best times to shop are 6 to 8 a.m.
Use a smartphone and social media to find special Black Friday promotions and rewards.
Use retailers' point of sale (POS) apps or devices to simplify checkout.
For better parking options, go later - say, between 6 and 10 p.m.EndText