Holiday shopping started earlier than normal this year as major retailers timed their store openings to when most Americans were finishing up their Thanksgiving dinner. Early online shopping also increased from previous years.
Some 24 percent of the 33 million people forecast to go shopping this weekend did so on Thanksgiving Day, reported the National Retail Federation (NRF). The majority of people who headed out to the stores Thursday were young – age 25 to 34 – the industry trade group found.
Retailers cite consumer anxiety over the recent government shutdown and an economy that is not recovering fast enough as reasons why they are not expecting as many people to shop this weekend. The NRF reports that 140 million people will be racking up sales this weekend, a 5 percent drop from the 147 million on the same weekend in 2012.
Early reports from Thursday suggest that retailers who did take advantage of opening their doors early were rewarded. Walmart claims it processed more than 10 million transactions at its registers between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday and more than 22 million people visited its stores.
Online sales also showed success. Target reported that its online sales were among the company's highest ever for a single day, doubling the numbers for the corresponding period last year.
According to IBM Digital Analytics, e-commerce sales among the top 800 online retailers Thursday increased nearly 20 percent over last year, and the majority of transactions were via mobile devices.
However, heavy discounting depressed profitability: The number of items shoppers threw into their virtual shopping basket rose 1 percent, but the average order amount dropped nearly 3 percent to $127.59.
At traditional brick-and-mortar stores, lines were long. About 15,000 people waited outside the flagship Macy’s store in New York City Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The store opened at 8 p.m. Thursday, four hours earlier than last year’s midnight opening, which attracted 11,000 people.
“It’s unbelievable. Clearly people are in the shopping mood,” said Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren.
The rush for discounted items was not without some incidents of violence. Thanks to a Twitter hashtag posted by @YourAnonNews, there is a heightened awareness of violence taking place at Walmart stores this weekend. The #WalmartFights tag resulted in several videos trending via Twitter, Instagram, and Vine starting late Thursday night. They included documented fights at Walmart stores, including two in Texas.
Many big box retailers reported an increase in security in preparation of the holiday shopping. This was to avoid a repeat of the notorious 2008 incident when a man was trampled to death in New York at a Walmart, and two men died in a shootout at a Toys R Us in California.
The most violent outbreak Thursday was in Romeoville, Ill, outside Chicago, where a man believed to be a shoplifter at a Kohl’s store was shot by police after fleeing the store in his car. The man’s vehicle dragged a police officer who was caught in the vehicle’s door. Three men were arrested in the incident.
Three fights broke out at a Walmart in Rialto, Calif., which injured a responding police officer. The fights, according to the San Bernardino County Sun, were over merchandise. All those involved were arrested and one was charged with suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. The store was originally scheduled to open at 8 p.m., but store managers decided to open earlier because the line outside had reached 3,000 people.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, Bill Simon, chief executive officer of Walmart’s US division, said that “any time you get more than 22 million people together, you’re going to have some behavior you’re not proud of” and that it’s “hard to tell what happened in any individual incident.”