The verdict is in. Shoppers like hitting the stores on Thanksgiving.
Retailers' experiment with Thursday evening hours and midnight openings on Black Friday resulted in record traffic — evidence that earlier hours are probably here to stay.
I spent much of Thursday and Friday near a shopping cart witnessing the trend known as "Thanksgiving creep." Malls and stores that opened at midnight had bigger crowds at 1 a.m. than at 6 a.m. Walmart was packed at 9 p.m. Thursday and was a ghost town at 9 a.m. Friday.
Staggered hours seemed to spread out the crowds. People went to specific stores for specific deals, avoiding scary long lines at any one store. Security guards and store workers kept customers orderly and let people through the door in groups. I had to remind myself that, yes, people have been trampled in the past over a cheap TV.
That's not to say it was dull. Shoppers swarmed Victoria's Secret for a $25 hoodie and yoga legging set, creating a checkout line so long that some people gave up and left. And I finally got to see Walmart working on all registers.
Most customers said they liked staying up late and shopping until they got tired. Only the diehard gotta-be-first-in-line folks missed Thanksgiving dinner. The rest feasted on a turkey lunch or headed out before doing the dishes.
Retailers saw visions of dollar bills at the register. The average holiday shopper spent $423 over Thanksgiving weekend, up from $398 last year, according to a survey conducted by BIGinsight for the National Retail Federation. Total spending reached an estimated $59.1 billion.
And it's just the beginning.
An estimated 129.2 million Americans were expected to shop on Cyber Monday, up from 122.8 million last year, according to a survey by Shop.org.
I bought two gifts online, neither of which came with a Cyber Monday discount. And I didn't get free shipping. The horror!
But I got just what I wanted, and I didn't have to go to a bunch of stores or, worse, wait in line at the post office. Mom's gift will be in New York long before Santa.
Call me Scrooge, but I'm guessing JCPenney's new Christmas button promotion won't do much to help the struggling retailer.
Through Christmas Eve, the department store is giving away more than 80 million holiday-themed buttons with a code on the back for a chance to win prizes. But the buttons are so small you need a magnifying glass to make out the seven-digit code on the back. There are no instructions on how to register online (you go to jcp.com/christmas) or even a mention of JCPenney. And what's really irksome: Most visible on the buttons is the word "China."
Someone okayed these?
JCPenney chief executive officer Ron Johnson — of Apple and Target fame — hailed these buttons as the store's gift to America. So what if the store replaced its great coupons and sales for "fair and square" no-discount pricing? Get a button and you could win gift cards, JCP merchandise, trips to Disneyland and a visit to Ellen Degeneres' show.
I entered two buttons just to play along. One was a dud. The other gave me a $10 "holiday certificate" — basically the same deal I used to get when JCPenney had coupons. Plus, I had to submit my home address, phone number and other personal information I would rather not provide.
No word yet from JCPenney on how many of these buttons have been redeemed. My guess is many will get lost in the bottom of purses like spare change because, after all, they are the size of a quarter.
I will say JCPenney did a nice job promoting the buttons in the stores with pretty matching Christmas trees. But I doubt these buttons are enough to turn around the 110-year-old company after three quarters of financial losses.
Conspicuously missing from WestShore Plaza last weekend was H&M. The mall thought the new store would be open for Black Friday but found out at the last minute it wasn't ready.
The store would have created a nice buzz for the mall, which was one of the few that didn't open at midnight. The H&M a few miles north at International Plaza had a line of about 150 people when it opened at 8 a.m. Friday.
It seems the popular Swedish apparel store will instead set its sights on the rest of the holiday shopping season. The WestShore store is expected to open Dec. 6.
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3110.