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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 24, 2001

Holiday buying frenzy begins

 •  Hard times don't dampen ardor of Hawai'i shoppers
 •  Macy's launches new era of Hawai'i retailing

By Anne D'Innocenzio
Associated Press

Hawai'i shoppers weren't the only ones lured out at the crack of dawn yesterday by retailers' deep discounts and fears of limited quantities of holiday must-have items such as Microsoft's Xbox, Harry Potter games and electronic gadgets.

Holiday shoppers packed Ala Moana Center yesterday for the first major shopping day of the holiday season. Nationwide, thousands of shoppers lined up for early-bird specials, and many retailers reported heavier early-morning shopping than in recent years.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

In scenes played out nationwide, thousands of shoppers lined up for early-bird specials at hundreds of retailers. Now, analysts say, retailers can only hope to keep the crowds coming as the weeks wear on to avoid what is expected to be the worst holiday shopping season in a decade.

About 300 people were lined up outside a Toys "R" Us store in Little Rock, Ark., before the doors opened at 6 a.m. Among the early risers was Elizabeth Phifer, who was in search of one item: A Diva Starz pet plush dog for her 8-year-old daughter.

"I'm way back here at the end of the line and I'm nervous I'm not going to get it," she said. Phifer decided to shop early after she saw in a newspaper advertisement that the toy was being marked down $5 to $24.99.

At a Wal-Mart store in Oklahoma City, Steve Estepp unloaded board games, Barbie accessories and kids' clothes from a packed cart into the back of his pickup truck.

"This is one stop of many," he said. "We're going wherever she wants to go," he said, pointing to his wife, Pamela.

At a K-B Toys store in Manchester, N.H., Rick Dugre arrived at 4 a.m. to buy a Microsoft Xbox video game console for his 15-year-old son. He said he didn't mind getting up so early because he was going deer hunting anyway.

"My wife begged me to check it out," he said.

 •  Bigger spree yet awaited

While the Thanksgiving weekend starts the shopping spree, it no longer is the busiest period of the season. Last year, the weekend accounted for 8.6 percent of holiday sales. The busiest period was the week before Christmas, which accounted for 30.9 percent of holiday sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"This is the year of the shopper," said Jeff Feiner, managing director of Lehman Brothers, noting deeper discounts this Thanksgiving weekend than last year. "The real message that the retailers understand is how promotional they need to be and are kicking it off with great discounts."

It seemed to be working, drawing a number of first-time early-bird shoppers like Deborah Rogers from Richland, Miss., who nabbed a DVD player for $88 at Wal-Mart, where she arrived at 5:30 a.m.

In fact, many stores, including Sears, Roebuck & Co. and K-B Toys, as well as mall operators like General Growth Properties reported a heavier turnout of early-morning shoppers than in past years.

"There is no question we did more business between 5 a.m and 6 a.m than we did in the past," said Michael Glazer, K-B Toys president and chief executive officer.

Despite the strong showing, Wall Street analysts are nervously watching how the rest of the season will play out. Even though retailers may have cut back on inventory in anticipation of slow sales, they believe there will be plenty of leftovers.

Feiner expects sales for the 22 major retailers he follows will only be up 2 percent for the holiday season. Those gains will be driven by discounting and will come at the expense of profit margins.

"The end result with black Friday is going to be strong, but relative to profits, it is not going to be good looking," he said. "We think it will be more red then black."