Editor's note: The National Retail Federation reported Sunday that a record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 212 million last year, according to a survey. The average holiday shopper spent $398.62, up from $365.34. Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion.
I hit the Irvine Spectrum Center and South Coast Plaza on Black Friday to check out the overall scene and also to see how some industry stores and competitors approached the day.
I must confess, I did not show up in the wee hours of the morning, though I heard from several people who did that stores that opened at midnight and 4 a.m. were busy.
The bigger question is whether the early openings led to more business or simply pulled the sales forward earlier in the day.
PacSun at the Irvine Spectrum opened at 3 a.m., and the store manager told me there was a line outside the door waiting to get in.
PacSun was aggressive on its Black Friday sales this year, and I have never seen the store busier. The company offered buy one, get one 50% off the entire store, and denim buy one, get one free.
I saw lots of people taking advantage of the denim promotion. The store was also stocked with low cost items such as skirts for $10, sweaters for $20 and flannel shirts for $15. I saw lots of shoppers carrying PacSun bags around the center throughout the morning.
Active opened at 7 a.m. and had a long line of teens waiting to get in starting at 5 a.m., the staff told me. When I arrived at the store about 9 a.m., the store was in disarray because it had been so busy.
Active offered a special deal from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. – spend $100 and get $50 back in Active gift cards. After 10 a.m., that changed to spend $100 and get $25 Active Bucks back.
The staff told me the skateboard promotions were especially popular – two decks for $55 or 15% off of custom completes.
Active also did some packaged apparel promotions on its Active brand that reminded me of those created by Zumiez – buy one Active denim or pant, one woven, and two Ts for $100.
Vans had a few deals sprinkled throughout the store, including a buy one, get one half off rack for sunglasses and hats. The most action was in the shoe department however, where there weren’t many sales going on.
Salvation, the store that combines Hurley, Nike 6.0 and Converse, had black and white balloons at its entrances and very loud music playing to attract attention, to add a festive vibe to the morning, and to celebrate the store’s second anniversary.
The store, which opened at 5 a.m., offered discounts on some aged merchandise until 10 a.m., then planned to take that away and focus on a raffle and other anniversary festivities.
Quiksilver is offering 40% off fleece, jackets and sweaters throughout the weekend. The Irvine Spectrum store was not very busy when I was there in the morning, but the South Coast Plaza store was quite busy.
Oakley took an interesting approach. It opened at midnight, and according to the staff, the main special promotions were on basic apparel. Ts were $15, long-sleeved Ts were $20 and fleece was $30. If shoppers spent $50, they also got $10 back. Sunglasses were not on sale, and the store was not very busy the few times I walked by.
Urban Outfitters opened at midnight and offered 50% of sale merchandise until 10 a.m. It looked like a war zone at 9:30 a.m., with piles of clothes and shoes strewn around the store. But it was still busy when I was there, though not mobbed.
Hollister at the Spectrum was super busy, and offered 50% off the whole store until 9 a.m., then switched to 40% off. I saw shoppers carrying lots of Hollister bags overflowing with merchandise. It also featured the shirtless male “lifeguards” at the store entrance.
At South Coast Plaza, Beachworks, owned by Billabong, offered buy two, get one free off the entire store. The store was busy when I was there, but I couldn’t tell if people were just looking or if they were buying.
Gap was one of the most promotional - and one of the busiest retailers - offering 60% off the store.
South Coast Plaza Executive Director of Marketing Debra Gunn Downing told me that she believed the overall promotional level was similar to previous years.
She described the earlier openings as a “game changer” that has changed the dynamic of Black Friday shopping. Downing believes the well-attended early openings evened out shopping center traffic, with the 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. surge not quite as pronounced as usual because many promotional shoppers hit stores earlier.
The afternoon shoppers on Black Friday are typically more social shoppers, she said, rather than those motivated by special deals.
South Coast Plaza is an upscale shopping center, and I asked Downing how business is going this year.
She said the center is having a “phenomenal year” and has recorded double digit increases each month since January versus the same months in 2010.
Much has been written about how the luxury customer continues to buy even in the uncertain economy, and while luxury is performing well at South Coast Plaza, the strength is across the board Downing said.
See our slide show above for lots of photos of industry stores and others on Black Friday.