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Your survival guide to serious holiday shopping

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" used to just refer to an annual event in New York City.

Today the phrase can also be used to describe the lines of shoppers that will barrel through the department store chain's doors tonight in search of holiday deals.

Pack up your Butterball, Black Friday is at hand.

The official start of the holiday shopping season (which unofficially began weeks ago in many stores) will -- once again -- be getting an even earlier start this year as many chain stores and big-box retailers plan to open early this evening to get a jump-start on the holiday rush.

National chains like Macy's, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Target plan to open their doors at 8 p.m. Big-box electronics retailer will open at 6 p.m., the same time Walmart plans its first round of "One-Hour Guarantee" promotions that promise particular sales items will be in stock during that period.

Gander Mountain and Big Lots will push the idea of an "early opening" to the extreme, with Big Lots beginning its holiday sales at 7 a.m. today and the outdoors retailer opening its doors at 8 a.m.

Charleston Town Center -- home to Macy's and J.C. Penney -- plans to be open for the first time ever on Thanksgiving Day this year.

The mall had an impromptu early Thursday opening last year. After planning to open at midnight, officials decided to unlock the doors a few hours early to accommodate the large crowds gathering downtown.

 In addition to "doorbuster" deals being offered at its stores, Town Center marketing director Lisa McCracken said mall officials are planning to go all-out this year to cater to early crowds.

"We'll add to the festivities with a midnight giveaway of $1,000 in Charleston Town Center Mall gift cards," she said.

The mall also plans to make use of its social media pages -- www.facebook.com/charlestontowncenter and www.twitter.com/CharlestonTC -- for additional giveaways.

"With recent retail survey results indicating 91 percent of shoppers will integrate social media while shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, Charleston Town Center is planning a giveaway of 100 merchant gift cards via social media throughout the night," McCracken said.

The mall will also use social media to award five people free VIP front door parking on Thanksgiving night.

The Town Center isn't the only retail outlet to use special giveaways and contests to boost traffic this year.

Logan County resident Carrie Ball won Value City Furniture's Black Friday Shopping Spree contest this year.

A chauffeured limousine will arrive at Ball's home Friday morning to take her to the retailer's St. Albans store for a private, $1,000 shopping spree. After she's done spending the money, Ball will be allowed to use the limo for the rest of the day to complete her Black Friday shopping.

Cabela's, which opted not to open on Thanksgiving so its employees could spend the day with their families, will also be giving away $8,700 worth of free prizes as the store opens Friday at 5 a.m.

The first 600 shoppers in line Friday will receive gifts, including a Browning rifle, GoPro camera, Nikon Prostaff Range Finder, Masterbuilt Smoker, Bushnell Binoculars or a Cabela's gift card worth up to $100.

Complete details of area store opening times, promotions and holiday deals can be found among the 844 pages of inserts inside today's Daily Mail.

Spending to increase

The National Retail Federation estimates 140 million people will visit stores and shop online between Thursday and Monday. Nearly one-quarter, 33 million people, will start shopping before midnight tonight.

Friday will remain the biggest shopping day of the year. An estimated 97 million consumers are expected to browse stores on Black Friday, a day so-named because it was the traditional day retailers would finally "go into the black" and turn a profit each year.

"Though many people have already started to check off items from their holiday shopping lists, we fully expect to see many more come out on Thanksgiving Day and throughout the weekend to take in the festive sights and sounds -- and to take advantage of unbeatable deals," said Matthew Shay, CEO at the National Retail Federation.

The average shopper spent $423 over the Black Friday weekend last year, according to National Retail Federation data. The organization expects retail sales to increase by roughly 3.9 percent this year.

A survey by the Consumer Federation of America and Credit Union National Association found 13 percent of Americans plan to spend more this year, up from 12 percent who planned to spend more last year.

The percentage of shoppers planning to spend less also declined from 38 percent in 2012 to 32 percent this year. 

However, while consumers appear to be budgeting more money overall for shopping this year, the amount they plan to spend on individual items might be falling.

Forest City Enterprises, Inc., parent company of Charleston Town Center, said its 2013 consumer survey found consumers plan to focus more on value this year.

Twenty-three percent of shoppers said they expect to spend more on value brands this year, compared to 2012, while almost one-third -- 32.3 percent -- expect to spend less on luxury brands.

They also plan to spend more on the kids this year.

"Whether it's a sign of tight economic times or more wishful and persuasive children, close to one-third of shoppers also plan to spend more on children's categories this year," said Jane Lisy, senior vice president for marketing at Forest City.

"What your children want takes priority over your personal wishes."

Forest City said 33 percent of shoppers plan to spend more on children's apparel with 27 percent planning to spend more on toys.

Meanwhile, consumers will trim spending on gadgets and finer things, with 39 percent saying they will spend less on jewelry, 38 percent saying they'll cut back on cellphone purchases and 34 percent opting to spend less on holiday decor.

Search for valueThe search for value on all items will send Americans to stores this weekend. The Saturday before Christmas, Dec. 21, is expected to be the second busiest shopping day this season.

However, while those two days are the most-hyped shopping days of the year, retail analysis firm ShopperTrak said they aren't the only time consumers can find a good bargain.

"There's a reason Black Friday and the Saturday before Christmas attract the heaviest crowds -- retailers flood consumers with discounts and special offers on those days," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. "But quieter shopping days also present their fair share of deals for consumers, along with more attentive customer service and a leisurely shopping experience."

According to ShopperTrak, Wednesday, Dec. 4, will be the best day to shop this holiday season. The next best days, the firm said, will be the Monday, Tuesday and Friday of that week.

"Despite lower store shopper traffic, weekdays provide an opportunity for retailers to promote and move merchandise that remains after weekends," the company said in a press release.

Since those days follow the Black Friday shopping weekend, consumers might still be able to pick up some items that were stocked up but not sold during the Black Friday promotions. And unlike the Black Friday goers, weekday shoppers won't have to fight the crowds.

"The weekdays will see stores with fewer crowds and more attentive sales staff offering shoppers an opportunity to complete some of their holiday shopping without competing with the crowds," ShopperTrak said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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