Long lines, heavy bags as San Antonians kick off holiday shopping season
San Antonio consumers, fresh off Thanksgiving dinner, flocked to area malls and shopping centers Thursday night and early Friday to kick off what retail analysts say could be a record holiday shopping season.
Dozens of people lined up outside the H-E-B Plus store on South Zarzamora Street early Friday, wearing hoodies and hats in a misty drizzle. Some said they were hunting for gaming consoles and electronics, while others were hoping to snag discounted staples like pillows and cooking pots.
Shoppers hustled in when the doors opened at 6 a.m., loading high-definition TVs and Spurs gear into their carts. Employees hurried around, helping customers and checking aisles.
Oscar Garza, 41, and his son Alberto Garza woke up about 4:30 a.m. Friday to hit the stores. This was their fourth time shopping together on Black Friday, Oscar Garza said.
The pair picked out a mirror and earbuds, but Alberto Garza was intent on finding something dinosaur-related. The 4-year-old can recite the lengthy scientific dinosaur names, his father said. They planned to do more shopping in the weeks before Christmas.
The discounts and prices this year are “about the same” as last year, said Gwen Edwards, 52. She thumbed through stacks of shirts in the kids’ section, looking for clothes for her grandchildren, and said she planned to stop at South Park Mall next.
Another shopper, Rudy Barbey, said he wasn’t there to bargain-hunt. The 68-year-old tries to exercise frequently and planned to walk around the store for about an hour while getting groceries. Barbey also shopped last Black Friday and said there seemed to be fewer people this year.
He was tempted by a discounted air fryer but ultimately decided to keep moving.
With an estimated 116 million shoppers, Black Friday is expected to be the busiest day for retailers this holiday weekend, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. That’s a slight uptick from 115 million last year.
“There’s a huge social element to Black Friday,” Ana Serafin Smith, a federation spokeswoman said earlier this week.
Retail sales could jump as much as 5 percent year-over-year, analysts have said: NRF projects receipts during the two-month shopping season of November and December could hit $721 billion — compared with $687.9 billion last year.
Much of that increase is expected to take place online. Adobe Analytics, which tracks online shopping, projected online sales could climb 15 percent from $108 billion last year to $124.1 billion this year. About a fifth of those sales are expected to take place between Gray Thursday and Cyber Monday.
A strong economy, low unemployment and effects of tax reform that could trickle down are some of the reasons George Kelemen, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers Association, anticipates a robust shopping season. The elections are also past, Kelemen said earlier this week.
Smith compared the holiday season to retailers’ version of the Super Bowl and the week of Thanksgiving to their halftime show. The focus over the years has shifted from an emphasis on Black Friday alone to five days of shop-’til-you-drop, she said. People are doing more research on the items they want and “the consumer has all the power” nowadays, Smith said.
One strategy that is paying off for retailers this season is giving customers the option to buy items online and pick them up in-store, she said. It’s not a new service, but its popularity is being driven by a bigger consumer population, Smith said.
Shopping together on Black Friday is somewhat of a tradition for Lee Coleman and her daughter. With several bags resting on the ground next to her, Coleman said she had found a scarf, a coat and other clothes at The Shops at La Cantera.
Discounts seem better this year, and many items were half off, Coleman said.
Asked whether this weekend will conclude her Christmas purchases, Coleman said the Friday excursion was “fun” shopping. She still has shopping to do and plans to look for some holiday gifts online.
“It’s not as crazy” this year, said Misty Perez, 34, who arrived at South Park Mall about 8:30 a.m. Friday. She bought socks at Old Navy and jewelry at JCPenney, though the gaming console she was hoping to get at GameStop was sold out. Still, “I’m finding everything I wanted,” she said.
This weekend was the first time Anthony Alaniz, 20, and Victoria Alaniz, 19, have gone shopping on Black Friday. They stopped at several stores at the mall and said they were pleased with some of the deals.
“It is pretty crazy,” Victoria Alaniz said.
On Thursday, at least 100 shoppers lined up outside the Best Buy at Legacy Shopping Center just before the store opened at 5 p.m.
“I didn’t even want to come out for this honestly,” Jason Ellis, 34, said as he loaded his Chevrolet Colorado pickup with two ASUS computer monitors and an HP Omen Gaming Desktop computer tower, gifts for himself.
But Ellis said he saw the items were marked down by as much as 40 percent so he hopped in his truck after eating a Thanksgiving dinner of prime rib.
“We’re not big on turkey,” Ellis said.
Some people said they had either finished their holiday gift buying or planned to do so online. Thursday’s shopping trip will likely be his last for the season after wrapping up his Christmas shopping online last week, Ellis said.
When asked what he would do with the time he might’ve spent shopping in the coming weeks, Ellis said, “Deer hunting.”
Dustin and Lora Smith and their 10-year-old son Austin waited outside the Best Buy two hours before it opened Thursday, snatching up two televisions measuring 43 inches and 50 inches, a Samsung sound bar and an HP printer among other electronics, including some gifts for relatives.
“We wouldn’t have done this without eating Thanksgiving dinner,” Dustin Smith, 34, said, noting that Best Buy is the only store they physically visit to purchase gifts.
But the family plans to do the majority of their holiday shopping online, Dustin Smith said, primarily because they live an hour away in Canyon Lake.
Sisters Martha Bailey, 62, and Rose Alvarado, 57, waited outside GameStop at North Star Mall on Thursday for Alvarado’s daughter. They had two large Macy’s bags full of baby clothes, pants and a pair of Converse shoes among other clothes.
The sisters said shopping after Thanksgiving dinner is a bit of a tradition while the men in their family stay at home and watch football. Bailey and Alvarado said they started shopping at 5:30 p.m. and could go until 9 p.m., and by 6:30 p.m., Alvarado had already spent about $120 at Macy’s.
But Alvarado and Bailey said they each have more gift-buying to do after Thursday evening, which they plan to do in stores. Bailey said she’s heard horror stories from friends and relatives about trying to return items bought online.
“I like to come out here and see the people,” Alvarado said of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. “It’s (shopping online) not the same.”
Joshua Fechter is a San Antonio-based staff writer covering retail and tourism. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | email@example.com | Twitter: @JFreports
Madison Iszler is a staff writer covering technology, manufacturing and other business topics. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @madisoniszler.