Retailers use TV bargains to lure early holiday shoppers

Early shoppers lured by quick bargains on TVs, tablets and more

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comNovember 23, 2012 

Dale Schissler was talking TVs, baby, and he wasn’t alone.

Schissler, a computer repairman with IBM, sat in the line outside Kmart with his 15-year-old son from 9 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday to buy a 42-inch flat-screen television.

“We got it for $199. We were number six in line,” said Schissler. By 4 a.m. Thursday, he said, about 300 people were standing in the line at the Western Boulevard store.

Two hours later, after dropping his son off at home in Cary, Schissler was chatting with the 30 or so folks who had camped out for days in front of the Best Buy in Garner. They were waiting for tickets that would allow them to purchase certain items when the store officially opened at midnight for the Black Friday sales spectacular.

Schissler was at Best Buy by 9 a.m. after receiving a call to service a computerized cash register at the store. He didn’t plan on buying anything; still, he made fast friends with the shoppers who were lined up in front of the store.

“There’s a sort of comradeship,” he said. “We watch each other’s back.”

The official start of the winter holiday shopping season begins Friday, but a number of retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. The retail ploy has some observers wondering if the newly named Gray Thursday has become the new Black Friday.

More than 80 million shoppers hit the stores looking for deals the day after Thanksgiving, but a recent survey found that a little more than half that number – 41 million – planned to shop on Thanksgiving, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.

The survey also found that the main reason consumers planned to shop Thursday was to get a head start on bargains. Smaller crowds and something to do other than eat and watch football on Thanksgiving were also listed as reasons.

John Walls and six of his friends were first in line at Best Buy. The group had been camping out in front of the store since Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The campers had fashioned a homestead of sorts near the store entrance. Two tents equipped with comforters and sleeping bags served as combination bedroom and chill out spots, while a card table laden with a tray of Wasabi peas, pasta, Marlboros and Pepsi worked as a makeshift eating and social area.

Walls, 37, said they warded off near-freezing overnight temperatures Wednesday night “by getting a couple of extra people to sleep with us and grabbing a couple of shots of bourbon from Buffalo Bills,” just down the sidewalk.

“This is our fifth annual guys weekend,” he said. “A friend of ours, who wasn’t able to make it, created a Facebook page that said, ‘5th Annual Occupy Best Buy.’”

Televisions are akin to electronic bait that retailers drop in the consumer pool to lure, then hook, holiday shoppers.

Walls was going to buy a Galaxy tablet that normally sells for $249. The thing was on sale for $180. And he planned to purchase a Toshiba 42-inch flat-screen TV that regularly sells for $419. It was on sale for $179.

Walls’ bunkmate, Jackie Chambliss, 35, of Raleigh, said all the campers were going to buy TVs and other stuff.

Three tents down, Beth Collins, 42, of Garner, was one of eight friends holed up in two blue and khaki-colored tents. Her group had been camped out in front of the store since Tuesday afternoon. They all planned to buy the Toshiba flat-screens.

“I want a TV and a computer, too,” she said.

Bob and Brenda Brown, of Clayton, had just finished eating their Thanksgiving dinner at the K&W Cafeteria near New Bern Avenue and decided to walk over to the nearby Hamrick’s department store on Maitland Road and browse for bargains.

“My wife likes this store,” Bob Brown said while looking at hats in the men’s department. “We figured it was a good way to kill two birds with one stone. It’s a beautiful day. We figured we could walk off the turkey dinner at the same time.”

The line was long gone Thursday afternoon back at the Kmart on Western Boulevard, but eight chairs were lined up in front of the store to mark shoppers’ spots for the door buster sale at 8 p.m., when the store would hand out tickets allowing people to purchase 52-inch flat-screen televisions for $399, normally priced at $699. Schissler’s name was on the olive-green camp chair that was No. 2 in line.

Chambliss pulled on a pair of red Saucony Jazz sneakers and talked about the grab-that-television philosophy pervading the Gray Thursday shopping crowd.

“If someone tells you they’re in line for a tablet, you look at them like, ‘what the?’” she said. “But if (they) say TV, you’re like: ‘Hey yeah. They’ve got good deals on TVs.”

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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