* Black Friday turnout seen stronger than year ago
* Store 'chaos and frenzy' of 2008 mostly gone
* Early rush may not be sustained through holiday season
* Retail shares fall 1.3 percent
(Recasts first sentence, adds comments from shoppers,
analysts, other details)
By Martinne Geller and Phil Wahba
NEW YORK, Nov 27 (Reuters) - U.S. shoppers turned out in
strong numbers at the start of the holiday season on Friday to
hunt for bargains, though many said they were spending more
Black Friday, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, is often the
busiest shopping day of the holiday season, during which the
retail industry rings in nearly one-fifth of annual sales.
This year retailers and investors are paying close
attention to signs of a consumer comeback that could propel the
economy, after the 2008 holiday season saw the worst sales
performance in nearly four decades.
Retail analysts who hopped from mall to mall across the
country on Friday saw larger crowds and said customers were
toting more shopping bags than last year.
But they note that an early surge does not guarantee a
strong selling season in the weeks up to Christmas, and
industry forecasts range from a rise of 2 percent to a decline
of 3 percent for sales during the entire period.
"There's lots of people in this store -- there are lots of
shopping bags," Macy's
Chief Executive Terry Lundgren
told Reuters, referring to the company's flagship store in
Manhattan's Herald Square. "But we've got several hours before
we can declare victory." [ID:nN27268627]
For the most part, shoppers were out for business rather
Linda Stone showed up early at the SouthPark Mall in
Charlotte, North Carolina, with her friends, who have made
Black Friday trips a group tradition.
"There's more people than we've ever seen," said Stone,
clad in a Christmas-themed, snowman sweatshirt. "I think
there's more people up and around hunting for those deals
because of the economy and where a lot of folks are now."
The Standard & Poor's Retail Index
was down 1.3
percent on Friday afternoon, slightly better than a 1.7 percent
decline for the wider S&P 500 that was fueled by
concerns over a possible debt default in Dubai. [ID:nN27428430]
Retail shares had surged 47 percent this year on hopes for a
For a graphic on U.S. holiday sales trends, clickhere
For a Reuters Insider segment on holiday sales, click on
Up to 134 million U.S. consumers say they may shop for
holiday gifts this weekend from Black Friday through Sunday,
according to the National Retail Federation.
Discount retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc
Target are expected to see the heaviest traffic over
the holiday weekend, followed by department store chains like
Macy's and Kohl's .
Jefferies & Co analyst Randal Konik recommends specialty
retail stocks, and said his top holiday picks were Abercrombie
& Fitch Co
, Coach Inc , Gap Inc and
Urban Outfitters Inc .
Konik visited a Long Island, New York, outlet center at
midnight and said store traffic was heavier than a year ago,
while promotions of 20 to 40 percent off were more prevalent
than the discounts of 50 percent or more seen in 2008.
Last year's frenzied bargain-hunting led to the death of a
Walmart worker in Valley Stream, New York, after shoppers broke
down doors to enter the store at 5 a.m.
Shoppers came out in force before dawn this year as well,
but the environment was more controlled as stores took extra
precautions such as opening earlier and policing how people
walked through their doors.
"I was scared to come out. Last year was horrible -- women
pushing and grabbing over shoes. This is nothing like that,"
said Helene Mitauer who was shopping at Express in center city
Philadelphia, where the term Black Friday was coined in the
1960s to refer to the start of holiday sales events.
"The sales are amazing but I honestly expected more of a
really big deal," she said.
Retail chains have insisted they will not be forced to
offer the fire-sale discounts seen in 2008 and have spent the
last year shrinking inventory and scaling back stores to
protect their profits.
At the same time, consumers have spent more time
researching their purchases beforehand and strategizing about
the best way to get them.
"This year it was all about knowing what you were going to
find before you walked in the door," said Marshal Cohen, senior
analyst at retail consultancy NPD Group. "The chaos and frenzy
has been eliminated. Now it's a serious business opportunity
and a serious savings opportunity for the consumer."
Nate Bryan lined up at 2.30 p.m. EST on Thanksgiving Day to
wait for a midnight opening at the Best Buy Co
Springfield, Pennsylvania, intent on buying a laptop for his
daughter. "It's normally $1,000 and now cut in half. That $500
can go to other things."
Debbie Techac, who spent more than 12 hours outside a Best
Buy store in Phoenix, Arizona, said she planned to buy a Dyson
vacuum cleaner cut to $329 from $549, two laptops and DVDs.
Shoppers also said they learned a lesson from years of easy
credit and carefree spending.
Lillian Shine, who lives in Oakland, California, expects to
spend more this year, since her shopping list included a
40-inch LCD Samsung television for $597. But she said she was
paying for the TV in cash and buying fewer gifts.
"I'm cash and carry. If I don't have the cash, it's not
happening," she said.
(Additional reporting by Phil Wahba and Dhanya Skariachan in
New York, Tom Hals in Springfield, Pennsylvania, Jessica Hall
in Philadelphia, Joe Rauch in Charlotte, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix
and Nicole Maestri in San Franciso; Editing by Michele
Gershberg and Matthew Lewis)