Retailers lure crowds as shoppers seek Black Friday bargains

Thanksgiving at Target
Shoppers filled the aisle at the back of the Bloomington Target store, minutes after the chain's first-ever Thanksgiving night opening. Hundreds of people braved snow, cold and high winds to stand in line outside the store for Black Friday sales.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Enticing Black Friday deals on TVs, computers and other products drew shoppers into stores as retailers racheted up their holiday sales efforts.

Best Buy, Target and other retailers reported that hundreds of shoppers were waiting in line for stores to open Thursday or early Friday. At the Mall of America, about 30,000 people waited for stores to open at midnight Thursday.

Dean Elwell of New Brighton waited until Friday morning to visit the Roseville Best Buy and begin his bargain hunting. He said it looked like retailers were competing more intensely on price this year.

"There's some great prices on some video games," Elwell said. "There's some really good prices on DVDs. I think Best Buy seems to be trying pretty hard. I think they're a little more aggressive than last year."

Black Friday started earlier than ever in some places. Target moved its store openings from midnight to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel said he was pleased by the response as hundreds of people filled the aisles at Target's Bloomington store.

Tamara Bawek of Apple Valley braved the swirling snow and wintry winds outside the Bloomington store as it opened Thursday night. She brought a friend, Brenda Heinkel.

Black Friday at Best Buy
Shoppers raced through the aisles of the Best Buy store in Richfield moments after the chain's flagship store opened for Black Friday.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"I did it last year, and not before then," Bawek said. "But I only did it at Target. And they do such a good job, that this is the only store that I come to because they're so organized with it."

In Richfield, Black Friday customers at Best Buy were greeted by CEO Hubert Joly as they streamed through the store near the chain's headquarters on Friday morning.

It was the first kickoff of a holiday season for the new chief executive, named to head the chain after scandal forced out CEO Brian Dunn earlier this year.

Joly toured competitors in the area as they opened before midnight -- including an impromptu meeting with Target's Steinhafel in a toy aisle in Richfield.

Joly said he was pleased with the crowds at Best Buy.

"I was earlier in the stores of some of our competitors, and now I see the crowd in this Best Buy, and I'm really impressed by the capabilities that we have," Joly said. "The assortment we have, the traffic, the shopping experience. I'm very, very proud of our team. They were very well prepared, and I'm just blown away by the traffic. I think this is very strong."

Long lines wound across the front of the nearby Wal-Mart store, and some people at the Richfield Best Buy said they had been in line since Monday.

Charity Gaanbatar of Bloomington was among those who lined up at Best Buy on Monday. She said she prefers hands-on retail over online shopping.

CEOs together
Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly (right) stopped to talk with Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel in a toy aisle in Bloomington on Thanksgiving Day. Joly was on a tour of other retailers ahead of the Best Buy store in Richfield opening at midnight on Black Friday.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

"It's a part of having someone to talk to," Gaanbatar said. "Someone to explain things to you. A way to actually hold the product, look at the product, feel the product. You've got the Geek Squad, and I'm not exactly one of those computer illiterate persons, but I'm not the greatest computer person, and there's something about having ... someone looking at you, knowing what's going on, talking to you."

Best Buy's senior vice president for retail stores, Shawn Score, said he was pleased with the crowd that waited in the snow to get into his company's Richfield location.

"The line looks to be about exactly the same, if not slightly bigger than last year," Score said. "And the reports I got from our leadership on the East Coast was exactly the same. The lines look to be about the same, if not bigger, than last year in many of the East Coast stores."

Joly noted that his company had a good day online, saying sales for Thanksgiving Day looked to surpass those on last year's Cyber Monday, the traditional online holiday rush.

Both Target and Best Buy have expanded their price-matching policies for the holidays.

Anthony Lyng of St. Paul said he had noticed more intense price competition.

"Well, they actually have more stuff on sale, compared to last year," Lyng said. "Best Buy, Wal-Mart. Lower prices and just more stuff in general."

Retail sales are typically highest in November and December. Last year, those two months accounted for about a fifth of all retail sales for the year.

The National Retail Federation forecasted that holiday sales will rise 4 percent, to about $590 billion. A year ago, holiday sales rose 5.6 percent.

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