* Wal-Mart "Black Friday" deals at 8 p.m., Target open at 9
* NRF sees holiday sales up 4.1 pct, down from 2011 increase
* Waiting in tents at Best Buy in Florida, but some just look
By Martinne Geller and Phil Wahba
NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) - U.S. shoppers took advantage of retailers offering a Thursday night start to the traditional post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping season, lining up at stores to get deals on electronics and other items or to just see what the fuss was about.
"I like watching the insanity, honestly," Jon Stroker, 40, of Littleton, New Hampshire, said after spending about $280 at a Walmart store in town and taking advantage of the retailer's 8 p.m. Thursday start of "Black Friday" deals.
This year, Target Corp joined Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Gap Inc in being open at least part of the day on Thursday and some retailers will be open throughout the day, a trend that began to take hold in 2011.
Wal-Mart's U.S. discount stores, which have been open on Thanksgiving Day since 1988, offered some "Black Friday" deals at 8 p.m. local time and special deals on some electronics at 10 p.m. Target has moved its opening from midnight to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Toys R Us is opening at 8 p.m.
"It's a recognition that retailers need to be more aggressive and want to show their physical stores are important," Moody's senior analyst Charles O'Shea said.
While he didn't see enormous crowds out in Vauxhall, New Jersey, he did see about 15 people lined up already at a Best Buy, which opens at midnight. At a Target in Westbury, only two shoppers were in line for a 9 p.m. opening. Still, for retailers, any crowd could make the effort worth it.
"It's a finite pie; if you can get a bit more by being open, then do it," O'Shea said.
The National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, forecast a 4.1 percent increase in retail sales during the November-December holiday period this year, down from the 5.6 percent increase seen in 2011.
In a separate survey, NRF said 147 million people would shop Friday through Sunday, down from 152 million on Black Friday weekend last year. The survey did not say how many shoppers planned to hit stores on Thursday.
Some retailers, like Best Buy Co Inc are keeping Black Friday on Friday, waiting until midnight to open.
At a Best Buy in Orlando, people had camped out in tents for days waiting for the doors to open.
Gabriel Esteves, 33, a self-employed car audio installer, waited in line with a bag of Cheetos and a Coke while his brother and sister went to their homes for Thanksgiving feasts with their families.
"They told me to take a break and go to the house, but today's the worst day to leave the line. People come and cut in line," said Esteves, who got in line Monday to buy some small electronics and a 50-inch television.
Best Buy, which is trying to stem falling sales under new CEO Hubert Joly, is one of the retailers in the spotlight this season.
At some stores, workers were not so happy to have early openings encroach on their Thanksgiving holiday. A petition asking Target to "save Thanksgiving" had 371,606 supporters as of Thursday afternoon.
Some shoppers agreed.
"I don't think it's good," Carol Lucas, 61, of Sugar Hill, N.H., said while her husband waited for a 32-inch television on sale at Walmart. "You're messing up Thanksgiving."
Still, at a Target on Chicago's Northwest Side, the first person waiting in line Thursday night was someone who worked at the store, Elsa Acevedo, 46, who finished her shift at 4:30 a.m. and lined up at about 2:30 p.m. to buy a 50-inch Westinghouse television.
As for the earlier opening, "I just think it takes people away from their families," she said. But she added that a midnight opening also pulled workers away from Thanksgiving celebrations because they had to prepare the stores to open.
Many shoppers lured into stores by earlier openings on Thursday may just be window-shopping.
More than 50 percent of consumers will do some form of "show-rooming" during the Black Friday weekend, said Kevin Sterneckert, vice president of retail research at Gartner Group.
"They will buy things because they looked at it in the store. They will touch and feel what they are interested in and then buy it online on Monday, either from the same retailer or a different online retailer," Sterneckert said.
At a Kmart on 34th Street in Manhattan earlier on Thursday, Charles Montague, a 55-year-old mover, was browsing the aisles just to kill time.
"I don't holiday shop," he said emphatically. "I buy stuff all year long, not during some man-made holiday."
Some were not waiting for Monday to buy on the Internet. Online Thanksgiving 2012 sales were already up 17.8 percent over Thanksgiving 2011 for the same period, measured through 9 p.m. EST, according to IBM.
THE RESULTS MATTER
The stakes are high for U.S. retailers, which can earn more than a third of their annual sales in the holiday season.
Consumers heading into the holiday shopping season remain worried about high unemployment and possible tax increases and government spending cuts in 2013. Also, lasting effects of Sandy, the storm that lashed the densely populated East Coast in late October, could cut into how much shoppers can spend on the holidays.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, two-thirds of shoppers said they were planning to spend the same amount as last year or were unsure about spending plans, while 21 percent intend to spend less and 11 percent plan to spend more.
"My family decided not to buy (Chanukah) presents this year - only for the kids. It's too expensive," said graduate student Danielle Slade, 29, from Jericho, Long Island.
Still, the Standard & Poor's retail index is up almost 27 percent this year, compared with a 10.6 percent increase for the broader S&P 500.
In New York's Times Square, a mix of locals and tourists lined up at Toys R Us.
"We just want to see what's happening," said a man who arrived Thursday from Paris. "We want to see what Black Friday is." A Santa hat-wearing expeditor quickly whisked him and his companion away before they could give their names.
For more Reuters holiday coverage:
BEFORE YOU GO
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.