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Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Black Friday still a brick-and-mortar experience for some

TAMPA — Standing in a frantic line at Best Buy on Thanksgiving, one young woman beat the system when she showed off the receipt for her new TV, which she had just purchased on her phone. She was waiting to pick it up.

"I didn't know you could do that," said Gwen Reynolds McMillian, a frequent online shopper who was also in line to buy a television.

The holiday shopping season kicked off Thursday and Friday for retailers around the country, as more than 114 million consumers were expected to turn out for doorbuster deals on everything from virtual reality headsets to slow cookers.

This year's shoppers were turning out for good deals and a good time.

Like Cathy Munch and her teenage daughter Olivia, of South Tampa, who by 8 a.m. were walking to their car at International Plaza & Bay Street with a pair of new shoes, sandals and a few other items from their list. Black Friday is a chance for mother and daughter to have fun together and over the last several years it has become a tradition.

"She really loves it," Cathy Munch said before they left to search for a new pair of boots at WestShore Plaza. "We knew we were going to get the deals of the century."

The hottest mall sales Friday morning were lucrative: 50% off storewide at retailers including Fabletics, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Gap and Payless Shoesource.

Meanwhile, some of the most crowded brands on Friday included Sephora, Victoria's Secret and Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, which didn't need to go so far as mark everything down to pull in customers. Beauty store Sephora had a $15 section that included some $40 items, and Victoria's Secret had specific deals on bras and some sleepwear. Lush went a step further by not offering any Black Friday discounts.

Holiday spending is expected to total $678 billion between November and December, according to the National Retail Federation. The average consumer has an expected holiday shopping budget of $967.13, 3.4 percent more than they did in 2016.

But for the most part, "The (Black Friday) deals aren't as significant from any other day of the year," said Iris Mohr, chair of the marketing department at the Tobin College of Business at St. John's University in New York. After all, many retailers now offer some Black Friday sales over the summer to generate traffic in traditionally slower months.

That, combined with the appeal of online shopping from your couch while watching football and digging into a piece of pumpkin pie has resulted in less foot traffic from years past, when it was impossible to find a parking spot or to score that deeply discounted television that more determined shoppers had been camping out for.

By the time Walmart's Black Friday sale began at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, there were only about 10 open parking spaces available in the lot on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa. Cardboard displays packed with ChromeBooks could be found next to the frozen foods section. Virtual reality headsets were next to the baked goods. Video games were next to orange juice.

The store was crowded, but manageable. Every register was open, seemingly every employee was on deck, as lines backed up and wound through rows of women's clothing, separated with yellow caution tape. Within 30 minutes of the store opening, one in 10 carts had a television and many shoppers were maneuvering two or three overflowing carts through the lines, which took about 20 minutes to get through.

By 6:40 p.m., the initial wave was coming to an end, parking was plentiful and shoppers were on their way to their next destination.

"The line was super quick," said Susana Perez, 37, of Coral Springs, who bought a 43" television for under $200 and a $300 pair of Beats headphones for $169. "I thought it was going to be a lot worse but it's not horrific," she said over coffee at International Plaza the following morning after purchasing a $125 gift bag for $25 from Bath and Body Works.

By 9 a.m., the doorbuster shoppers like Tampa's Ella Sallins, who had been at it since 5 a.m., were winding down.

"I'm going to eat some more Thanksgiving dinner and go to sleep," she said.

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