Black Friday shoppers line up early at South Florida stores to snap up bargains

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The annual holiday shopping season entered high gear on the kickoff day dubbed Black Friday — as bargain-hunting faithful queued up in the early morning hours at South Florida stores in search of deals and elusive popular items in high demand.

At the Best Buy electronics store at 1901 Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale, the doors opened at 5 a.m., drawing some 40 bleary-eyed customers who were quickly informed by store employees that such popular items as Microsoft XBox consoles and Sony PlayStation 5s were unavailable.

“No consoles, guys, we don’t have any consoles,” an employee called out as customers entered the store. “No PS-5s, no X-Boxes.”

For many retailers, the annual rite of hustling for bargains that traditionally started the day after Thanksgiving has been in full swing for days and even weeks, with stores offering deals on technology items, appliances, furniture, sporting goods, exercise machines. toys and clothing.

Ricardo Samuels of Wilton Manors, and a friend, Asdrubal Reyes, an Air Force veteran visiting from Puerto Rico, acknowledged that high-demand items had already been snapped up online by the time Friday rolled around. Samuels said they came to pick up accessories such as chargers for their phones and “maybe a TV.”

“They’re sold out,” Samuels said, “Apple watches are sold out. I don’t know if I’m going to get a TV today.”

But other customers found what they wanted. Ana Sasmiresan bought a laptop computer for her new startup business in Pompano Beach.

She said the price for her new computer was “not like the old days. On Black Friday there were much better deals. Now I think everything is much more expensive.”

Still, customers were finding plenty of TV sets of varying models,– many of which were stacked high among the store aisles, as well as games, phones and security systems.

Asdrubal Reyes, of Puerto Rico, left, and Ricardo Samuels, of Wilton Manors, shop at a Best Buy on Black Friday in Fort Lauderdale shortly after the doors opened at 5 a.m.

Asdrubal Reyes, of Puerto Rico, left, and Ricardo Samuels, of Wilton Manors, shop at a Best Buy on Black Friday in Fort Lauderdale shortly after the doors opened at 5 a.m. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Some stores opened Thanksgiving Day to give customers a head start on deals ranging from appliances to electronic games. Game Stop in Hollywood reportedly drew lines of customers Thursday morning even though the store did not open until 5 p.m.

Even Brightline, the high-speed rail service that recently resumed service after a shutdown due to COVID-19, sought a piece of the retail action by offering shoppers free rides with its door-to-door mobility service from its downtown stations in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, to any shopping destination within a 3.5-mile zone.

On FridayBrandsMart stores opened at 6 a.m. and customers were waiting outside at several locations, said Angus Bryan, senior vice president of merchandising.

“Traffic has been good,” Bryan said in a phone interview. “We’ve heard from customers really excited to get back out and get into the stores, with everything that happened last year.”

Most important: the company is stocking the products its customers are seeking amid stubborn supply problems that have disrupted much of the retail industry this year.

“The biggest plus factor for us is we are in good shape on TVs, appliances, cellphones and computers,” Bryan said. “We have done a really good job and our appliance business has been very strong. Inventory is significantly better than earlier in the year.”

Cellphone sales are also strong, he said, and customers are upgrading appliances and computers as many people continue to work from home.

“Consumers have really rallied around their home lifestyle,” he said.

Despite supply shortages and rising prices, there is little doubt that consumers are still in a spending mood, economists and retail analysts said this week. Unemployment rates are rivaling pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, first-time jobless claims are plunging and savings accounts contain high balances.

The National Retail Federation forecast that nearly 2 million more people than 2020 were expected to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday this year, “even as consumers have continued the trend of starting their holiday shopping earlier in the year,” the group said in a statement.

Two-thirds of holiday shoppers questioned earlier this month planned to shop Thanksgiving weekend this year. That amounted to 158.3 million people nationwide, up from 156.6 million last year but still below the 165.3 million in 2019.

“Americans head into the heart of the holiday season with a reasonable expectation that an already tight job market will continue to tighten in the months ahead,” said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst with Bankrate,com, the consumer website. “Retail sales have recently surprised to the upside and that momentum should continue.”

And many shoppers remain inclined to personally visit stores to make their purchases, despite multiple years of gravitating toward online buying, said Ted Rossman, another analyst who tracks consumer buying trends.

“I do think the demise of in-person retail is overstated,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in an interview. “Eighty percent of retail is still in person. There is a benefit to shopping in person.”

The advantages range from acquiring advice from sales clerks to trying on clothes and taking products home right away, he said.

But late Thursday night, as the Thanksgiving dinner dishes were being washed and leftovers put away, retail TV networks including QVC, HSN and Shop HQ were pitching their audiences hard with “Top 10 Tech Gifts” and boom boxes with video screens.

Shortly before 10 p.m. on QVC, hosts wearing turkey head gear declared that 40,000 people were trolling the network’s website looking for items.

As festive as the buying ritual is for some, law enforcement warned shoppers against thieves who reportedly raided stores in flash mobs in California and in the Midwest.

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Authorities urged shoppers to take precautions against characters who would snatch their wallets, packages, purses and cellphones outside malls and stores.

In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody on Wednesday released her office’s annual holiday consumer protection guide and posted it online. The tips are mainly aimed toward safeguards consumers should exercise while online.

With national supply chain shortages threatening scarcity of some items, many Floridians are rushing to finish their holiday shopping lists early,” she said.

“But don’t let the rush blind you to scams or deceptive trade practices. During the hustle and bustle of the season, it is important to watch out for scammers looking to exploit the frenzy to prey on unsuspecting shoppers, especially online.”

  • Use a credit card, instead of a debit card, when shopping online. Credit cards allow consumers to dispute a charge more easily if an item never arrives or a fraudulent charge occurs.
  • Keep receipts and be sure to understand retailers’ return polices and periods so any unwanted items can be returned for a full refund.
  • Before agreeing to a store’s layaway plan, be sure to ask whether the retailer charges a fee for its program and whether payments and fees are refundable if the purchase is canceled or returned.
  • Research before donating to a charity. Be aware of how much the donation will actually go towards charitable programs as opposed to administrative expenses.
  • Do not provide credit card or bank account information to someone who called or emailed unsolicited.
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