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Early crowds hunt, gather deals as Black Friday gets under way

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 1:54 a.m. HST, Nov 30, 2013

Tim and Ken Taguchi did their homework.

They went online, compared prices and finally decided to go to Iwilei's Best Buy store on Black Friday to get the best deal on a new 55-inch flat screen television.

But they forgot to measure the size of the box their new television came in and weren't able to get into the back seat of their small sedan.

So it was back into the Iwilei store to negotiate with a sales representative a price to have Best Buy deliver their purchases.

The Taguchi brothers were among the early-morning shoppers at Best Buy and at stores across the state looking for Christmas bargains on Black Friday.

The day after Thanksgiving traditionally has been the kickoff to the holiday buying season, but shopping was off to early start here and across the nation as many major retailers opened Thursday night for consumers who wanted to sacrifice the holiday to get a jump on the bargains.

In a trend that has been intensifying over the past several years, merchants have pushed opening times earlier and earlier as they seek to capture a greater share of holiday spending. Retailers say they are reacting to consumer demand and the pressure from competitors who open earlier.

Nationwide, an estimated 33 million shoppers, nearly one-quarter of those polled in a National Retail Federation survey, planned to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Still, Black Friday is expected to be the biggest retail day of the weekend with a projected 97 million, or 69 percent, of shoppers hitting the sales.

Michael Braun, assistant store manager at the Iwilei Best Buy, said he picked up an additional 30 to 40 employees to accommodate the crowd the retail store hopes to see during the Christmas holiday.

However, this year Best Buy -- along with Walmart, Kmart, Sports Authority, Macy's, Sears, Target and Ross Dress for Less -- pushed Black Friday sales into Thanksgiving seeking to capture a greater share of holiday spending.

"We will be open for 28 hours straight," said Braun, noting that Best Buy's Black Friday hours began at 6 p.m. Thursday. Normally, the store is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

"Our heaviest period was right after we opened at 6," Braun added. "It was crazy from 6 to 9 p.m."

Best Buy sold out its allotment of the newest version of the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft  XBox.

"We don't know if we will get another shipment before Christmas," Braun said.

Shopper Kris Ralleca and his girlfriend had their shopping cart loaded with electronic items by 5 Friday morning.

He was at Best Buy looking for a desktop computer for his father. "I spent two or three days looking online," he said, before he finally settled on a model.

"It's a good deal for consumers," said Ralleca referring to Black Friday sales. "I got to save at least $300."

However, not all of this morning's early Black Friday shoppers at Best Buy got the bargain they were hoping to find.

The Welle family left the store with a PlayStation 3 game. "It wasn't on sale," said mother Yukie Welle. "We had to buy it at regular price."

The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 3.9 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That's higher than last year's 3.5% growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

Braun added: "We are expecting a good season. It should be awesome season this year."

There were no reports of problems with frantic shoppers, Braun said.

But as a safety precaution there was a Honolulu Police Department sergeant on duty at Best Buy's front door. Besides the added security, there were numerous Best Buy sales people roaming the store and easy to spot in blue polo shirts.

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