The holiday shopping season kicked off early, as several retailers began offering deals on Thanksgiving Day. Many people complained about the early start and the mad rush for deals — yet they went out shopping anyway.
Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 4 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That's higher than last year's 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.
Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits, as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores.
Here's how the start of the holiday shopping season is playing out. All times are EST, unless otherwise specified.
— Friday, 4:55 p.m.: Don't bother telling Santa what you want.
Victor Gonzalez, 36, and his wife braved a rare Southern California rain storm at Citadel Outlets, an outdoor mall about 5 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. He said they wanted to shop for Christmas gifts for their three kids, all under age 12, and take advantage of baby-sitting by her mother, who's in town for the holiday.
He said his kids all want the new Microsoft game console, the Xbox One, "but they're getting clothes."
"They're not going to be too happy about that!" he admitted, but said the kids already have an older-model Xbox "that works fine."
Meanwhile, Lois Scheer said her 11-year-old granddaughter wants "a computer" for Christmas, but instead she bought her a pink sweatsuit.
— Christopher Weber, Associated Press, Los Angeles
— Friday, 4:50 p.m.: Maybe you can't afford a new game machine for your loved one? How about a new game instead? AP's Lou Kesten recommends 10:
— Friday, 4:45 p.m.: Stores' decisions to start sales on Thursday meant less shopping for Tuesday and Martee Trasvina, who were at a Target in Portland, Ore.
Martee Trasvina said that in the past, she might get up before dawn to shop or buy a big-ticket item for her son. There was none of that this year.
She said she found it exhausting to figure out where to go and when, as the deals were spread out over such a long period of time.
They both said they felt a little manipulated this year after being deluged with so many offers for so many days.
"We are just older and wiser," Tuesday Trasvina said.
— Sarah Sell, AP Business Writer, Portland, Ore.
— Friday, 4:40 p.m.: Labor-backed groups target Wal-Mart on Black Friday
Labor-backed groups used Black Friday to launch demonstrations over wages and working conditions at Wal-Mart. They're also protesting what they believe is Wal-Mart's retaliation against employees who speak out against their jobs. Union representatives said there have been peaceful arrests in nine cities, including Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle and Sacramento, Calif.
In Bellevue, Wash., authorities said about 100 protesters were outside a Wal-Mart and were asked to disperse. The Bellevue Police Department said a dozen protesters did not comply with law enforcement commands and were being arrested. The San Bernardino Sun in California reported that more than 100 demonstrators gathered near a Wal-Mart in Ontario.
But Wal-Mart said that only six workers have participated in demonstrations on Black Friday. The retailer has 1.4 million workers.
"Wal-Mart associates are not participating in the union-organized events," said Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
— Anne D'Innocenzio, AP Retail Writer, New York
— Friday, 4:35 p.m.: Georgia couple keeps shopping modest with uncertain finances.
The Alexanders tried to keep their shopping simple this year. They went to a Best Buy in Savannah, Ga., to buy a computer for each — and agreed to call it quits for the rest of the shopping season.
"Usually I'd do something more for Christmas, but nowadays you never know what's coming ahead," said Desire Alexander, who works as a human resources coordinator at a local college.
She said her children are grown and can take care of themselves for the holidays.
"Maybe if 2014 shows some improvement, I might do more shopping," she said.
Her husband, Timothy, who works in commercial construction, said things have been picking up at his job. But that hasn't assuaged the couple's overall worries about the economy.
— Russ Bynum, Associated Press, Savannah, Ga.
— Friday, 4:30 p.m.: Online sales up on Black Friday.
E-commerce sales rose 9 percent on Black Friday compared with the same period last year, according to preliminary data from IBM Benchmark, which tracks e-commerce sales for 800 retailers.
— Friday, 4:25 p.m.: Move away from the discount rack of sweatpants. Gym clothes have become fashionable, as AP's Mae Anderson explores
Workout clothes for women, once relegated to the back of the closet, are moving to the front of the fashion scene.
Yoga pants are the new jeans, neon sports bras have become the "it" accessory and long athletic socks are hipper than high heels.
Blame it on the push by many Americans toward a more active lifestyle. Or call it an extension of the nation's fascination with fashion. Either way, these days jogging suits are just as likely to be seen on a runway in New York as a treadmill in Texas.
In fact, sales of workout gear are growing faster than sales of everyday clothing — by a lot. Spending on workout clothes jumped 7 percent to $31.6 billion during the 12-month period that ended in August from the same period a year ago. That compares with a 1 percent rise in spending for other clothing to about $169.2 billion.
But these aren't cheap cotton T-shirts and spandex jumpsuits. Top designers like Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang all rolled out fitness chic clothing lines, with everything from $50 leggings to $125 zip-front hoodies and $225 long john sweatpants. And big nationwide retailers like Gap, Forever 21, Victoria Secret and Macy's have fitness lines, too.
Read more at:
— Mae Anderson, AP Retail Writer, New York
— Friday, 4:20 p.m.: Southern California's Black Friday has become shades of gray, and dripping wet.
Storm clouds pushing in from the ocean have brought bands of rain across the region, despite expectations that a low-pressure system off the coast would bring only sprinkles and a slight chance of showers.
Bargain-hunting shoppers have had to sprint from awning to awning to avoid getting soaked.
The National Weather Service says the showers will decrease as the low moves away, and high pressure and offshore flow will bring warmer weather on the weekend.
— John Antczak, Associated Press, Los Angeles
— Friday, 4:05 p.m.: Formerly homeless man compares shopping frenzy to drug abuse
As Seattle shoppers cruised the sidewalks, Michael Wiggins stood in the crowd trying to sell a $2 newspaper that supports the causes of homeless and low-income residents. The 50-year-old himself was off-and-on homeless for 32 years but is now living in a condo with the help of rental assistance.
Looking around the crowds, Wiggins said he was concerned about the focus on spending and said it was sad to see people spending to potentially put themselves in debt.
"How are you getting ahead?" Wiggins said. "Why are you killing yourself for a pair of underwear?"
Wiggins said the shoppers were "fake" and not being honest with themselves. He compared their focus on acquiring items to how he used to abuse alcohol and drugs
— Michael R. Baker, Associated Press, Seattle
— Friday, 3:55 p.m.: Lower gas prices might mean more spending, AP's Josh Boak reports
Falling gas prices are shaping up as an unexpected gift for drivers — and for people on their holiday shopping lists.
The average price of gasoline has tumbled 49 cents from its peak this year to $3.29 a gallon, putting it on track for the lowest average since 2010, according to AAA. Because many Americans have had no pay raises, whatever money they're saving on gas has freed up a bit more for other purchases.
And history shows that when gas prices drop, consumers become more likely to splurge on dinners out. Impulse buys at the mall seem like less of a stretch. More people buy a gas-station gift card after fueling up.
Many retail analysts have forecast a ho-hum sales gain of around 2 percent this year; others predict an increase of up to 3.9 percent. But steadily cheaper gas could send holiday sales shooting above 5.4 percent, analysts say.
"Every little thing moves the needle at this point," said Carl Riccadonna, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. "The benefit at this time of the year certainly helps retailers, since it is not spread evenly throughout the year."
Read more at:
— Josh Boak, AP Economics Writer, Washington
— Friday, 3:40 p.m.: Feeling tangled? AP's Ryan Nakashima has recommendations on wireless speakers and headphones
— Friday, 3:25 p.m.: Shoppers find deals better online.
Kate Eads, 33, of Seattle, hasn't done Black Friday shopping in the past but went this year as an outing with some friends — all of them mothers of young children. They came away with some inviting markdowns from Old Navy and Gap but also a feeling that Black Friday discounts aren't all that spectacular.
"The deals aren't as good as shopping around online," Eads said.
Online is where she makes most of her purchases, and Eads largely finished her holiday shopping in early November with purchases at Amazon.com. She even ordered the gift wrap and ribbons from the online retailer.
— Michael R. Baker, Associated Press, Seattle
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