According to ShopperTrak -- the world's largest provider of retail and mall foot-traffic counting services -- Black Friday sales increased 6.6 percent over the same day last year. This represents $11.40 billion in retail purchases, the biggest dollar amount ever spent during the day.
At almost $11 billion in consumer spending, Black Friday 2011 outpaced last year's record and will likely be the top performing sales- and foot-traffic day for the seventh year in a row.
Stephen Colley, owner of Alton Radio Shack, said about 10 people were waiting for him to open his store at 5:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25, compared to 25 waiting outside last year. The early-morning shoppers quickly purchased the three computer laptops advertised at drastically reduced prices.
Colley, who opened the store near the Alton square in 2001, had extra staff in the store to assist customers, and even put out a tray of fresh cinnamon rolls. By 6 a.m., the customers were gone. No other shops had opened on the square.
Fin to Fur manager Aaron Mills said customer traffic in Thayer was busy Friday and Saturday, with many people buying discounted clothing and boots. The store opened three hours early on Friday at 5 a.m.
"People were waiting for us to open," Mills said.
Mills said he appreciates shoppers who support the local economy. Fin to Fur strives to satisfy customers by giving good service, he said.
Mammoth Spring Radio Shack owner Ruth Armstrong said shopping is generally different in small towns. People can come in at 9 a.m. and still find bargains, she said.
Armstrong, in business almost nine years, said sales are down about 10 percent this year, which is an improvement over 2010, when sales were down by much more.
Third-generation Thayer retailer Larry Forschler, owner of Forschler True Value, said he has seen a dramatic change in shopping habits -- and Thayer's downtown -- in the nearly four decades he has been in business.
"We have gone from a society that would save to buy something when they needed it to a society that buys on credit when they want it," Forschler said. "We became a more materialistic society."
When large U.S. retailers began importing cheap clothing from overseas, Forschler said, it was no longer socially acceptable to wear hand-me-downs.
"Kids back-to-school shopping used to be a big deal," Forschler said. "They might get five outfits and they had to last all year."
Now, clothing made in China is cheap and disposable, he said.
Increased mobility and new highways also changed how and where people shop, Forschler said, recalling when Thayer had several blocks of downtown stores selling everything from ladies dresses to livestock feed. Thayer once had four grocery stores in operation downtown.
When parking became difficult in the 1960s, Forschler's father, Carl Forschler, went to each business downtown to ask owners to contribute toward buying two city lots. In one afternoon, Carl Forschler gathered $10,000. He bought the lots, had the old houses razed and gave the lots to the city.
"I don't think you could raise $500 today downtown," Forschler said of the many vacant retail buildings.
Forschler said he was not disappointed about his Black Friday sales, however, as many shoppers came in for the advertised sales.
Although many people go to the big-box stores for large-ticket items, such as appliances, they shop locally for necessities and to have items serviced.
"I haven't seen any major increases, but I haven't lost any either," Forschler said.
The weeks ahead
"Despite our sluggish economy, shoppers proved they are looking for value and ready to buy if given a good customer experience," ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said in a press release.
This is the largest year-over-year gain in ShopperTrak's National Retail Sales Estimate for Black Friday since the 8.3 percent increase seen between 2007 and 2006.
"Still, it's just one day," Martin said. "It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behavior through the holiday shopping season."
Retailers continue to stretch out Black Friday weekend by enticing shoppers with door-buster deals weeks in advance, Martin said.
"Granted, the economy is still sputtering, but slight increases in the employment rate mean fewer workers fear layoffs," Martin said. "While consumers are still extremely value-conscious, they clearly responded to retailer price reductions and 'door-buster' promotions."
This year, shoppers were more likely nationally to buy once they entered a store. Holiday shoppers look for sales and will research purchases online beforehand.
"Given a strong Black Friday, however, and the possibility of a drop-off in the coming weeks, retailers will need to work extra hard to convert knowledgeable browsers into buyers," Martin said.
Throughout Thayer Walmart on Thanksgiving, pallets of toys and electronics were bound in plastic sheeting with signs stating, "Not to be sold until 10 p.m." Many of the items had not been sold out by Saturday morning.
Thayer store manager Jason Greer referred questions to the company's national spokesperson.
Compared to mild-mannered shopping locally, Black Friday was troublesome at several Walmart outlets, with at least two dozen shoppers injured and several arrests stemming from overzealous shopping, robberies and other incidents, according to online news reports.
The incidents include:
* Twenty customers, including children, suffered minor injuries at a Los Angeles Walmart after they were pepper sprayed by a woman who used the spray to gain an edge over fellow shoppers vying for discounted Xbox video game players.
* A shopper outside the San Leandro, Calif., Walmart was shot at 1:45 a.m. after he and family members resisted two armed men trying to steal purchases. The victim was in critical condition and expected to survive. Police arrested Tony Phillips, 20, for attempted homicide and robbery.
* Two South Carolina shoppers were robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot near a Hilton Head Island Walmart.
* In upstate New York, two women were injured in altercations that broke out at a Rome Walmart that had just let Black Friday shoppers into its electronics department. One man was charged with disorderly conduct.
* In the Phoenix suburb of Buckeye, a 54-year-old grandfather was roughed up by police as he put a video game in the waistband of his pants as he tried to lift his grandson so he wouldn't be trampled by a crowd. Witnesses said police thought the man was stealing the video game.
* In Kinston, N.C., a scuffle erupted between customers trying to snap up cell phones marked down from $200 to $35. An off-duty Kinston police officer working security for the store pepper sprayed several consumers. One shopper was arrested.
* Police used a stun gun to subdue a 26-year-old shopper in Milford, Conn., after he allegedly hit another shopper in a Thursday night fight while waiting to buy video games. He faces assault and other charges.
* A man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Kissimmee, Fla., Walmart. And near Muskegon, Mich., a teen suffered minor injuries after being knocked over and stepped on repeatedly in a consumer rush to the electronics department.
The incidents appear to be the result of two converging trends on Black Friday: bigger crowds in search of bigger, broader deals.
Walmart operates about 3,800 U.S. stores and more than 600 Sam's Club warehouse outlets. Since the death of a store employee in a 2008 Black Friday stampede, the chain has implemented new security and crowd control measures, such as spreading door-buster deals over several hours.
Walmart spokesman Greg Rossiter says he's unsure if this year's incidents are more pervasive than in years past.
"Except for a few unfortunate incidents, we've heard positive feedback from customers and our associates going through the biggest shopping day of the year," Rossiter said in an online news report.