c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

As the sun was starting to rise in Norridge, Ill. on Friday, Anna Gonzalez and Alex Molina loaded their Kmart shopping bags into the trunk of their car. Exhausted after 5 1/2 hours of shopping, they were heading home to sleep.

Other shoppers around the country ventured in the opposite direction, flooding stores in search of promised Black Friday deals on electronics like tablets, giant televisions and children’s toys.

“It was crazy,” DeVonte Johnson, a 20-year-old sales associate at the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets in Virginia, said of the overnight wave. “It was three in, three out. I felt like I was at a club.”

Retailers beckoned shoppers during morning television shows Friday, with commercials and holiday songs to remind viewers that the stores were open and the sales were on. But for many, the bargain shopping had begun on Thanksgiving, as families and teenagers seemed to carve out time for shopping around their holiday turkey, or went out at night when many department and retail stores opened with major deals.

With the kickoff to the holiday retail season underway, labor groups and some Wal-Mart workers planned protests on Black Friday near stores nationwide, in an effort to rally support for higher wages. Some marched earlier, carrying signs for better pay, while others planned disruptions later in the day.

At the Leesburg outlet stores in Virginia, Tammy Hawkins and her daughter, Ashley, outfitted in red holiday hats with jingling bells, braved near-freezing temperatures and arrived at 4:30 a.m. Ashley, 25, said she saved 50 percent on a bag at Kate Spade. She had taken note of the sale on Facebook.

“Using the social networking, the stores have definitely got out and reached out to shoppers,” she said.

In Norcross, Ga., customers at the Forum open mall on Peachtree Parkway had mixed reactions to the sales promotions.

Melvina Bolston, 48, came from nearby Doraville for her first Black Friday experience, and vowed not to do it again. She accompanied her sister — but made it clear she’d rather be anywhere else, including at home vacuuming, despite a few deals she found.

“I’ve been tortured by being out here, but my sister is into all of this,” Bolston said outside the Old Navy store. “The savings are worth it, but to me, it’s a little like torture.”

The night before, she had waited 85 minutes in a checkout line at a Wal-Mart, she added.

Others found the savings worthwhile. “There were some things we really needed to get, so we decided to take advantage of the deals,” Gloria Moses said, while shopping at the Forum.

And after finding a parking space, Moses and her husband even agreed to purchase an item that wasn’t on sale: a pair of New Balance shoes.

More than 400 people lined up in 28-degree weather outside a Target in Schaumburg, Ill., just before the store opened Thursday night. Perhaps 1,000 stood in front of a Best Buy in Los Angeles. As a Target in Hyattsville, Md., began to open Thanksgiving evening, people folded up the mesh chairs they’d been sitting in — some since midnight Wednesday — as employees in bright yellow vests ushered them inside and passed out brochures with a map of the store inside.

“Thanksgiving dinner is over,” said Becky Solari, 18, standing on line with a friend at the Schaumburg mall. “And there’s nothing else to do.”

Retailers had been banking on that sentiment — and possibly younger shoppers bored with family dinners — as many expanded hours on the holiday, promising many of the same steep price cuts Thursday that would continue into Friday.

At a Best Buy in Los Angeles, teenagers and young adults made up most of those in line.

“To be honest, it’s more of a tradition than anything else because my family, we don’t do much for Thanksgiving,” said Stephen Chea, 24. “So, my friend’s family and I would always line up the day before or early in the morning and they would actually bring the turkey.” Chea said they would eat it in line.

Jeff J. Jones II, chief marketing officer for Target, said one of its stores in Columbus, Ohio, looked as though “the local schools had bused in teenagers, there were so many teens out shopping together.”

To try to avoid a crush of shoppers that could turn harmful, many big-box stores posted employees as guides inside the stores, along with tape and instructions to help customers find heavily discounted items that had been advertised. At a mall in an Atlanta suburb, as the stores began to open Thursday night, one mall official radioed the security staff, saying: “Slow. Safe. That’s what it’s all about. People need to be safe going into the mall.”

Inside a Toys R Us store in Falls Church, Va., lines looked like airport checkpoints. Shoppers, some tugging children, slowly pushed their carts through winding lanes divided by yellow caution tape.

“I’m a Black Friday shopper,” Ada Joyner, 41, said as she instructed her 23-year-old son, Aaron, to search for items on her list. “I have a game plan.”

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At a nearby Best Buy, a pallet of 72 boxes, six rows high, containing Toshiba laptop “essentials” bundles stood behind a customer service desk. Workers just peeled down the plastic wrapping and handed them to shoppers. Each one cost $350 after a discount of nearly $92.

Manoj Verma, a diplomat from India, used his smartphone to check reports of a 40-inch Samsung television on sale for $397. He also had accessories including flash drives and a backpack in his basket. Aisles were crowded, with some people reading sales fliers in the aisles.

Discounted electronics are a staple at Black Friday events, frequently used as “doorbusters.”

“My TV from last year is in beautiful, perfect condition, but this one is bigger and better,” said Ruben Calderon, an annual Black Friday shopper who planned to buy a 50-inch LED TV and some Xbox games at the Schaumburg Target on Thursday. “In all my years of doing this, I have never seen a deal on a TV that’s this good.”

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Wal-Mart said it processed more than 10 million transactions at its registers from 6 to 10 p.m. and Walmart.com had nearly 400 million page views on Thanksgiving Day.

Overall, online sales were up sharply, nearly 20 percent over Thanksgiving Day last year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. And more shoppers were turning to their phones and tablets, IBM found. Mobile traffic accounted for more than 42 percent of online traffic, an increase of more than 32 percent over last year.

There were scattered reports of disputes among shoppers over items, and one report of violence Thursday night. In Romeoville, Ill., a person was shot and injured outside a department store after a struggle with the police, who were summoned to a report of shoplifting from a Kohl’s department store, according to The Chicago Tribune. Shoppers, undeterred by the crime scene out front, continued to browse through the store, the article said.

On Friday, more than just sales were planned. Unions and their allies have planned protests at 1,500 Wal-Mart stores across the country to demand higher wages and more full-time work.

Myron Byrd, 45, who works at a Wal-Mart Market near Wrigley Field in Chicago, said he planned to get arrested outside his store in a protest to demand a living wage and urge Wal-Mart to stop retaliating against workers who speak out. Byrd, who works in stocking and meats, complained that his pay of $10.15 an hour was barely enough to live on.

“I should be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment and to pay my bills, but I can’t,” he said. “So instead, I live in a boarding house,” where he pays $475 a month.

Wal-Mart, however, has been doing some planning of its own.

The company has filed trespassing injunctions in five states, including California, Texas and Arkansas, which will bar protesters from Wal-Mart property. Brooke Buchanan, a company spokeswoman, said these restrictions — the result of a process that began months ago — were a Black Friday first for the company. They will not apply to Wal-Mart employees who participate in protests, Buchanan said.

Earlier in November, the general counsel’s office of the National Labor Relations Board accused Wal-Mart of illegally disciplining or firing some employees, some of whom had participated in last year’s protests.

Retailers seemed encouraged by the turnout Thursday, mindful that this time of year is critical for their bottom lines. Holiday shopping generally accounts for about 20 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

“Last year, we served over 22 million customers, and this year, even more, many more, chose to shop at Wal-Mart,” William S. Simon, chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., said on a call with reporters Friday morning. “We’re very pleased with how we turned out last night.”

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Simon emphasized that stores felt calmer than in past years, soothed perhaps by more humane hours and a new wristband system, which allows customers to secure their place in line for a particular item and then roam the store while they wait.

At Target, chief Executive Gregg W. Steinhafel and other officials also noted in a news release that business was heavier than last year. “Whether online, on their mobile devices, or in our stores, guests shopped Target in unprecedented numbers,” Steinhafel said. “And, as always, our team provided the exceptional experience our guests have come to expect from Target.”

Some retailers shunned the early shopping craze. Nordstrom’s was among the holdouts that refused to open on Thanksgiving day, but promised sales when it did open Friday.

In Norcross, Ga., Shenanigans Toys, an independent store, did open 30 minutes early but offered no special bargains. Marilyn Marbury, a store employee, said the owners did not believe in gimmicks and retail brinkmanship.

“It’s the owners’ prerogative; we just don’t do sales,” she said. “We typically have a lot of the same customers who love the store and love to support local businesses.”