COLUMBIA — The Friday after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, kicks the holiday shopping season into high gear. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not the biggest shopping day of the year, according to DealNews.com. That's actually the last Saturday before Dec. 25.
Still, an estimated 74 million people are expected to visit retailers on Friday, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
For Columbia resident Catherine Miller, a successful Black Friday requires meticulous planning. As a pre-Black Friday ritual, she starts looking at retailers' ads early, anywhere from a week to a week and a half before the big day.
A self-described hardcore Black Friday shopper, she's a mother of three who has participated in Black Friday for 12 years. Most years, she goes to bed Thanksgiving night dressed to hit stores early Friday, but this year is different. Because Toys R Us will be opening its doors at 10 p.m. Thursday, she plans to go there after Thanksgiving dinner.
After Toys R Us, she'll make the first of two trips to Walmart for the evening before going to Target at 4 a.m. Then it'll be off to Walmart again at 5 for the electronics sale.
The best people to go with are the ones who don't care whether they get anything because those are the ones you can tell what to do, Miller said.
Some people can be used as cart watchers for stores where aisles are packed. Others can be used as place holders in lines. Or, if you're lucky, you can get a senior citizen to drive you around who is eligible to park in the handicapped spots.
For Miller, the overall goal is to get the cheapest prices on the gifts her kids want. Even with 26 items on her list, she plans to spend only $500 on all her Christmas items this year.
Kate Canterbury considers herself a casual Black Friday shopper and plans to take advantage of some sales this year. She plans to shop at Target on the big day. This year, she plans to buy toys for her children, nieces and nephews and possibly some electronics for the house.
Canterbury said she will start shopping between 9:30 and 10 a.m. Friday, which she has noticed is when the traffic begins to thin out.
Best Buy will open its doors at 5 a.m. Friday morning but expects lines to start developing outside the store around 9 or 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. A couple of hours before doors open Friday, the store’s employees will hand out tickets for door-buster items — limited-quantity items at deep discount — to patrons waiting in line.
For Rusty Strodtman, general manager of Columbia Mall, Black Friday weekend is one of the busiest of the year. This is his 15th year in shopping center management and his second year at Columbia Mall. The mall expects 250,000 to 300,000 people this weekend, with 100,000 to come on Friday, its third busiest day of the year. Only the two weekends before Christmas see higher sales volume than this weekend, he said.
It's a "social tradition" that brings some of the same people to the mall every year, he said. The hardcore Black Friday shoppers can get at least 25 percent of their Christmas list purchased this weekend, he said.
Some department stores at the mall will open at 3 a.m. Friday, and certain other stores, including Target, will open at 4. The mall itself will open at 6. And it's not just retailers that will open early. For example, the McDonald's on Stadium Boulevard near the mall will open at 3 a.m.; it normally opens at 5.
Generally, apparel stores and stores with door-buster items will see the most traffic this weekend. Door-busters are what "drives the crazy, early morning shopping," Strodtman said.
The mall will have extra security on Friday, not so much for preventing shoplifting as for crowd control inside and outside the mall, Strodtman said.
"Normally parking's pretty bad, but hey, you can walk off the turkey," Canterbury said.