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With Black Friday deals online, why do Tampa Bay shoppers head out on Thanksgiving?

The same tech you use to shop from home, these shoppers use to ensure they score the best deals.
Shoppers wait in line at Best Buy to open at the location on 1725 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, November 28, 2019.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
Shoppers wait in line at Best Buy to open at the location on 1725 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, November 28, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Nov. 29, 2019

TAMPA — Shri Nagnoori set up three folding chairs outside the N. Dale Mabry Best Buy at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

He and his two friends weren’t even the first in line. Three pitched tents stood between them and the store’s front doors. Nagnoori, 40 of Tampa, and his crew are not the only Black Friday diehards, but they do pride themselves in being among the most savvy and organized.

“We have a whole sequence,” Nagnoori said, as a line of shoppers grew behind him Thursday afternoon.

First, Best Buy for big-screen TVs and laptops. The Walmart next door would be next for kids’ toys. Then they head to the Target across the street for children’s electronics and round out the night for home goods at Kohl’s.

“We have been planning this for a week," he said. “While I’m here, I have friends in the queues at other stores.”

Black Friday shoppers are some of the most organized deal-hunting sleuths. But what once required a lap-full of paper ads has been simplified to apps and webpages that pool every major retailer’s deals together.

(From left) Best Buy associate supervisor John Stone and Best Buy General Manager Ryan Smith hand out "Door Buster Tickets" for "Black Friday" shoppers Mario Silva, Liosbel Villazon and Liosky Villazon at the Best Buy located on 1725 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, November 28, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Sure, advances in technology have made it easier for online shoppers to participate in Black Friday without leaving their homes. But it has also made the most dedicated shoppers even more efficient as they go store to store on the biggest sales day of the year, using retailers’ apps and third-party deal websites to plot and conquer their shopping lists.

Related: The best Black Friday deals in Tampa Bay — no matter who you are

In the age of Amazon, in-store deep discounts and the tradition of Black Friday continue to be enough to attract lines of shoppers outside the country’s leading retailers on Thanksgiving Day.

“The iconic experience of shopping during this time is what brings people,” said Tom Gray, manager of a Best Buy store in Clearwater. “I do expect the same customers to be within the top 25 in line. They love the sport of it.”

At the Tampa store, Nagnoori and his friends excitedly clutched florescent orange and green papers handed to them by Best Buy managers. They were tickets to the store’s most desirable “doorbuster” deals: A 65-inch TV that was about half off at $199 and a laptop that at $89 was marked down $100.

“We come for the doorbusters,” which aren’t available online, Nagnoori said, “but also to maintain a tradition and get that Black Friday feel.”

A survey from BlackFriday.com — one of the websites that pulls together deals and shopping info — says Florida Black Friday shoppers are some of the most dedicated in the country, second only to those in South Dakota, for actually showing up at stores. A recent survey the website conducted determined 55 percent of Floridians who plan to take advantage of Black Friday deals would hit the stores this weekend.

Across the country, more than 165 million people are expected to go gift shopping at stores at least once over the long weekend ending Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation.

Related: Shopping online? Here’s how to outsmart criminals this holiday season

But Thanksgiving night? That’s when you’ll find the veterans.

Ray Solomon, 37, who was the first person in line breaks down his tent before shopping for items at the Best Buy located on 1725 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, November 28, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Ray Solomon, 37, is a Tampa Black Friday institution. His red tent is always the first in line at the N. Dale Mabry Best Buy. He has camped out the past 19 Black Fridays. He had his shopping list in his phone, and used a map of the store to plot the perfect route.

Solomon has had Best Buy parking lot barbecues and in-line video game tournaments. He has witnessed all the Black Friday trends: When the stores opened while it was still dark Friday morning, or late on Thanksgiving night, and now after dinnertime on Thanksgiving Day.

And yes, he says, line culture since the rise of online shopping has slowed down some, but it’s far from dying.

By 4 p.m., an hour before the Best Buy opened, a line wrapped around the corner of the brick storefront. By 4:30 at the Target across the street, a few dozen people either sat in folding chairs or stood behind a barrier of red shopping carts that blocked the entrance until 5 p.m.

The nearby Walmart was open all day, even though the doorbuster sales didn’t begin until 6 p.m. Workers offered coffee and cookies for the Black Friday crowd at 4 p.m., but the smartest shoppers dispersed after studying the store map on their phones.

“They gather where the item that they’re looking for will be dropped," Walmart manager Tom Cooper explained as he prepped his store in Pinellas Park earlier this week. “There’s no guessing game. We make it convenient.”

Walmart remained open to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day at the location on 1505 N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, November 28, 2019. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Of those who head out during the shopping weekend, 65 percent do so because the deals are too good to pass up, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. The next largest chunk, 28 percent, said they head out because it’s a tradition — one not satisfied by ordering from your computer or smartphone.

“For some people, they associate Christmas not with the birth of Jesus, but with shopping," said Phil Trocchia, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida’s Kate Tiedemann College of Business. “So when you go to the mall, you get that feeling of Christmas. You get to smell the evergreen, see the trees and the decorations. At home, you miss all that.”

Nagnoori and his friends have created their own traditions they look forward to each year. Black Friday on Thanksgiving doesn’t cancel his Thanksgiving, he said, it just pushes it a day.

On Friday, he and his Black Friday gang gather for dinner. They talk about how much money they saved — and how much they spent.

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