Retailers lure shoppers with holiday deals

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 26, 2006

Albert Lea Tribune and the Associated Press

It was cold, it was dark and in some places it was foggy. None of that would stop millions of bargain-seekers from climbing into their cars for a pre-dawn raid on their local malls, electronics retailers and discounters for the official start to the holiday season.

&8220;Great deals. I&8217;m shopping for everybody today. We hit Target. We&8217;re going to Meijer. We hit Sears. We started shopping at 5 a.m.,&8221; Joanne Dosant, a 36-year-old legal assistant from Windsor, Ontario, said Friday as she loaded her SUV with two cartloads of items from a Target store in Madison Heights, Mich.

The aggressive tactics used to lure shoppers out before sunrise on &8220;Black Friday&8221; apparently worked. Based on early reports, the expanded hours, increased discounting and free money as gift cards drove hordes of shoppers to stores to buy flat-screen TVs, computers and toys.

Albert Leans and area residents also came out in hordes for doorbuster sales at Wal-Mart, ShopKo, Herberger&8217;s and other local stores as doors opened at 5 or 6 a.m.

Overall, the biggest draws were consumer electronics, particularly flat-screen TVs, laptop computers and digital cameras. Toys fared well too. In addition to the hard-to-find Fisher-Price TMX Elmo, shoppers snapped up other items like anything Dora, robot toys, Fisher-Price&8217;s Kids Tough Digital Camera and Jakks-Pacific FlyWheel XPV, according to toy merchants.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which promised the most aggressive pricing strategy ever, set the tone by plying shoppers with one-time offers such as a $988 Viore 42-inch plasma TV set. The discounter declined to comment Friday about business.

Locally, ShopKo and Herberger&8217;s also declined comment Friday.

Karen McDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers Inc., which operates or owns 23 malls in 11 states, said a handful of malls surveyed on Friday reported traffic and sales gains over last year.

While &8220;Black Friday&8221; officially starts holiday shopping, generally it&8217;s no longer the busiest day of the season. That honor now falls to the last Saturday before Christmas. Stores say &8220;Black Friday&8221; sets the tone for the weeks ahead, however: What consumers see that day influences where they will shop for the rest of the season.

This year, analysts expect robust holiday sales gains for the retail industry, though the growth is expected to be slower than a year ago. The National Retail Federation projects a 5 percent gain in total holiday sales for the November-December period, less than the 6.1 percent in the year-ago period.

Meanwhile, the International Council of Shopping Centers estimates sales at stores open at least a year will rise 3 percent in the November-December period, less than last year&8217;s 3.6 percent.