* Some stores move to earlier openings, on Thurs night
* National Retail Federation sees holiday sales up 4.1 pct
* Group says number of shoppers should fall slightly
* Protesters challenge early opening hours, wages
By Phil Wahba and Dhanya Skariachan
NEW YORK/BLOOMINGTON, Minn., Nov 23 (Reuters) - U.S. retailers declared their experiment with earlier store openings to kick off the holiday shopping season a success on Friday, with those new hours expected to be a Thanksgiving night staple for more retailers next year.
Stores such as Target Corp opened hours before midnight on Thursday to try to capture a bigger piece of the retail pie. The move seemed to bring out a different type of shopper than the usual one who grabs the "Black Friday" deals, analysts said.
That meant by Friday morning, some shoppers, like Christian Alcantara, 18, at a J.C. Penney Co Inc store in Queens, New York, had already made a lot of their purchases. J.C. Penney stuck to a more traditional 6 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) Friday opening.
"They should open earlier. I've been everywhere else and I've already shopped," he said.
Shoppers like Alcantara are likely to force holdouts like J.C. Penney to move their post-Thanksgiving sales into Thursday night next year, said Liz Ebert, retail lead at consulting firm KPMG LLP.
"There will be pressure on them. There'll be an expansion of it next year," Ebert said.
Hard data on "Black Friday" store traffic will not come in until this weekend. But analysts said retailers who opened early brought in a non-traditional Black Friday shopper, with more families coming in together and buying more than just the "doorbuster" sale items.
"I've never seen parents bring so many kids on Black Friday," Toys R Us Chief Executive Jerry Storch said.
The National Retail Federation expects sales during November and December to rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year's 5.6 percent increase. That made store operators' strategy important as they battled each other, rather than seeing a growing pie in a season when U.S. retailers can make a third of their annual sales and 40 to 50 percent of their profits.
"Retailers want them to buy now, they want to get that share of wallet early," said Michael Appel, a director at consulting firm AlixPartners. He noticed that the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York, was busy from midnight to 3 a.m., but that traffic, while still brisk, was less heavy by midmorning.
Shoppers used smartphones and tablets and a lot of research as they hit stores, a mobile phenomenon that started last year and seemed to be more prevalent this year.
Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist and a senior executive adviser with Booz & Company's Retail practice, was waiting on line with one woman in Phoenix, who was shopping for a refrigerator. Using her mobile device, she found the appliance online for the same price and left the store without. She intended to buy it online instead.
"There's a fundamental transformation of shopping," he said.
Mobile devices account for 45 percent walmart.com traffic and online traffic coming from Walmart's mobile app was three times bigger than last year, Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com, said.
Overall, online sales were up 20 percent versus the same period last year, through 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) on Friday, IBM said.
The National Retail Federation said 147 million people would shop Friday through Sunday, when deals are at their most eye-catching - down from 152 million the same weekend last year.
The NRF estimate did not account for Thursday shoppers and anecdotal evidence suggested retailers opening earlier may have cut into traffic on "Black Friday", the traditional start of the holiday season that denotes the point when retailers in the past would turn a profit for the year.
"People seemed to be shopping quite a bit, although in talking to mall management, it seemed that traffic was not as busy as last year," Deloitte retail analyst Ramesh Swamy said.
Retailers were also using technology better, allowing sales staff to match prices customers found online and having them use tablets as mobile "checkout stands" so buyers did not have to wait in line, a service consumers were quickly coming to expect.
"I even heard customers complaining about a retailer that didn't have mobile checkout," he said.
SAVING UP FOR CHRISTMAS SPREE
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, two-thirds of shoppers were planning to spend the same amount of money as last year or were unsure about plans, while 21 percent intended to spend less, and 11 percent planned to spend more.
"I definitely have more money this year," said Amy Balser, 26, at the head of the line outside the Best Buy store in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. "I definitely don't think (the economy) has bounced back anywhere near as much as it needs to, but I see some improvement," she said.
For others, Christmas is the focal point of their annual shopping.
"We cut back spending on birthdays and anniversaries so we'd have more for Christmas. We've adapted," said Cheri Albus, 58, of Papillion, Nebraska, after shopping at J.C. Penney at Westroads Mall in Omaha.
Retail stocks rose in holiday-shortened trading on Friday, in line with gains across the market. Among the leaders, Wal-Mart ended up 1.9 percent and Macy's Inc rose 1.8 percent.
Across the country, store lines were long - in the hundreds or more in many places - with the move toward earlier opening hours appearing to help. By sunrise on Friday, it was commonplace, even at large stores in the major cities, to find many more staffers than shoppers.
While the shift to earlier openings was criticized by store employees and traditionalists because it pulled people away from families on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, many shoppers welcomed the chance to shop before midnight or in the early morning hours.
Some workers used the day to send a message.
OUR Walmart - a coalition of current and former Wal-Mart staff seeking better wages, benefits and working conditions - targeted Black Friday for action across the country after staging protests outside stores for months.
Nine protesters were arrested on misdemeanor charges after blocking a street outside a Walmart near Los Angeles, police said. Three of those arrested were Walmart workers, OUR Walmart said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc's U.S. discount stores, which have been open on Thanksgiving since 1988, offered some Black Friday deals at 8 p.m. on Thursday and special deals on certain electronics, such as Apple Inc iPads, at 10 p.m.
At the Macy's store in Herald Square in Manhattan, the line at the Estee Lauder counter was four deep shortly after its midnight opening. The cosmetics department's "morning specials" included free high-definition headphones with any fragrance purchase of $75 or more, and a set of six eye shadows for $10.
But for some people, cheap wasn't cheap enough - like the Macy's shopper who bought Calvin Klein shoes at 50 percent off but was still not satisfied.
"I was hoping for deeper discounts," said Melissa Glascow, 35, of Brooklyn, New York.
That could actually be an intentional strategy to help retailers' profits.
"It appears that manufacturers and retailers are making concerted efforts to drive margins, which may take some of the sales sizzle out of a traditionally big selling day/period, but should be positive to gross margins," Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter said in a note to clients.
Lines at Best Buy stores were similar to last year but the traffic to its website was "significantly" higher, Shawn Score, head of the company's U.S. retail business, told Reuters.
11/23/2012 10:21 PM EST
Return Policies You Need To Know
The holiday shopping season is in full force. And we bet you're endlessly looking for the perfect gift for mom, dad and everyone in between. (If you need a little help, check out our Gift Guide page for some awesome suggestions.) And while we love the idea of giving and receiving, we don’t always end up with the right item.
Head over to HuffPost Home for details on Walmart, Target and other major retailers.
11/23/2012 8:24 PM EST
Black Friday Mobile Sales On The Rise
Here's a quick Thanksgiving/Black Friday question for you.
In the run-up to Christmas, Hanukkah, and all the other gift-laden winter holidays, would you rather go after a bargain by letting your fingers loll about on the screen of a smartphone or tablet -- or mix it up with the punch-throwing, gun-toting, um, customers at your local big box store?
We thought so. And if numbers from eBay are any indication, that instinct toward self-preservation is strong in many of us (or at least an increasing number of us). For the numbers show that, since last year, Thanksgiving and Black Friday have -- not surprisingly -- seen significant jumps in the number of people shopping via mobile device.
Read more here.
11/23/2012 7:37 PM EST
For A National Guardsman, $330 A Week At Walmart
A HuffPost reader from Alabama writes:
"My son is a member of the Alabama National Guardsmen! He also works for Walmart in the Shipping and Handling Department. My son works 40 hours a week and is paid $8.25 an hour. My son has a wife and four children, two of whom are disabled. How can Walmart billionaires be allowed to get away with their slave labor ways of doing things?"
11/23/2012 6:50 PM EST
Walmart Strikes Fail To Distract Black Friday Shoppers
HuffPost's Alice Hines reports:
DALLAS and LOS ANGELES -- As she neared the entrance of a Dallas-area Walmart shortly before midnight on the eve of the shopping frenzy known as Black Friday, Tammy was both shocked and thrilled to encounter a group of more than 40 protesters.
Having worked for a dozen years as a cashier at another national retail chain, Walgreens, Tammy said she felt an immediate sense of solidarity with the Walmart employees.
"Walmart cuts hours and benefits to push people out," said Tammy, using her phone to capture video of the protest. "It's the same thing at Walgreens. The workers are suffering while billionaires make all the money."
But despite her professed anger at corporate greed, Tammy -- who declined to provide her last name lest she jeopardize her job -- was not deterred from entering Walmart to purchase a TV on a layaway plan. Her own low wages made her feel a sense of community with the striking Walmart workers, but those same wages also generated pressure to find and buy goods at low prices -- precisely the demand that Walmart has fed to turn itself into the world's largest retailer.
Read more here.
11/23/2012 6:16 PM EST
LOOK: Walmart Protesters Tweet Black Friday Photos
From HuffPost Business:
Never imagine you'd see Walmart workers striking against their employer? Now you can, using the Twitter hashtag "#walmartstrikers," a phrase accompanying many photos tweeted out by the protesters during the Black Friday protests.
Walmart doesn't appear overly concerned. In a Friday morning press release, the retail giant said planned protests haven't affected the company's Black Friday plans so far:
"Only 26 protests occurred at stores last night and many of them did not include any Walmart associates,” Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer said in the release. “We estimate that less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide. In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year."
The strikes are being organized by OUR Walmart, a labor group backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Check out some photos from Twitter here.
11/23/2012 6:02 PM EST
'The State Has No Qualms About Leaving Us Penniless'
In an email to HuffPost, Dawn Bess in Missouri writes:
"No one is striking here. Missouri is an 'at will' employment state and the employers pay the unemployment insurance. It no longer is deducted from our paychecks like it was 5 or 10 years ago, so if you are fired in Missouri for ANY reason that your employer can conjure up, the state denies us unemployment compensation. We can file a protest but the state always takes the employer's side and we lose. It's a horrible situation here in Missouri and everyone is terrified of losing their jobs for any reason because the state has no qualms about leaving us penniless and homeless. There is no security net in MO for workers who lose their job. So short of the long, no, there are no strikes here."
11/23/2012 4:48 PM EST
Look: Demonstrators Arrested Outside Walmart
Demonstrators are arrested by police after protesting outside a Walmart store Friday Nov. 23, 2012, in Paramount, Calif. Wal-Mart employees and union supporters are taking part in today's nationwide demonstration for better pay and benefits A union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers, was staging the demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday, the day when retailers traditionally turn a profit for the year. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
11/23/2012 4:31 PM EST
Man Threatens To Stab Kmart Customers
One man's frustration with Black Friday crowds reached a boiling point early Friday morning when he was caught on video threatening to stab anyone that came too close to him.
According to CNN, the crowd at a Kmart in Sacramento, Calif. took on a "mob mentality" as the store opened its doors to shoppers who had been in line for hours.
11/23/2012 3:57 PM EST
Two People Shot Outside Florida Walmart
Two people were shot outside a Walmart in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday, police confirmed to WCTV.
The victims were a man and a woman, according to witnesses. Neither have suffered life-threatening injuries, say police.
The scene was described to the Tallahassee Democrat as such:
Kollet Probst said she had finished much of her holiday shopping when she returned to the Walmart on Apalachee Parkway to make a return.
She said she was waiting in the customer service department when a crowd of people came running into the store from the parking lot. Shots started going off, and customers ducked for cover.
"Everybody started trying to find a place to hide," she said.
While police have not yet commented on the cause of the incident, witnesses at the scene told WCTV that "two couples were arguing and one of the men stared firing," before fleeing the scene in his car.
The suspect is still reportedly on the loose.
11/23/2012 3:52 PM EST
Dallas Police Subdue Shoplifter Suspect With Taser
Witness Gloria Lira provided WFAA with a cell-phone video recording of the incident. According to WFAA, one can hear the police order the suspect to put his hands behind him and the sound of the stun gun.