Toys R Us employees Raven Riley and Nick Leggett were still smiling early Friday morning despite the steady flow of shoppers coming in looking early morning deals. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — This year’s Black Friday crowds actually arrived Thursday night, as shoppers were enticed to begin their annual Christmas shopping adventure early, thereby avoiding large crowds Friday.
Still one of retail shopping’s busiest days of the year, Black Friday in Albany began mostly without the typical morning rush, with a few exceptions, much to the delight of some store employees and shoppers alike.
After years of seeing large crowds rushing into stores, often creating confusion and havoc, many large retailers made the decision to open locations the evening of Thanksgiving, to cut down on some of the traffic.
“This was probably one of the better Black Fridays as far as guest traffic,” said Target Human Resource Manager Betty Billings. “Everyone was very cooperative. The customers were very orderly and not unruly. They just seemed happy.”
Billings, who has worked at Target for nine years, said she attributed this year’s calm to the extended store hours on Thanksgiving and on Target’s not having any specific sales on specific items at specific times.
“They were asking about the X-Box One and the new PlayStation, but everything was just on sale throughout the day,” Billings said. “If there was something they felt they had to have, they came and got it.”
Robyn Morrison, who usually works as a service desk associate but filled in this year as a floor supervisor, concurred with Billings’ assessment that customers were very friendly and orderly.
“The customers have been amazing,” said Morrison. “We have not met one rude customer.. Everyone has been very patient and understanding. Everything’s been organized and orderly.”
The scene at Albany Mall was more reminiscent of Black Fridays of the past. Several stores were reporting long lines of customers waiting to check out at mid day.
Toys R Us shopper Tina Rose, of Leesburg, said she felt customers behaved well at most of the stores she visited throughout the night and morning. Shoppers appeared to know exactly what they were looking for, she said.
Rose had high praise for Toys R Us for handling their crowds well to avoid overcrowding and for Home Depot, whose associates handed out coffee and doughnuts as well helping shoppers carrying items to check out and then to their cars.
“They were very organized,” said Rose, when speaking about Toys R Us. “We had a ticket and didn’t have to go wait in the back and be overcrowded. They were definitely the most organized. It makes me want to come back here.”
Rose’s praise was equally high of Home Depot, where she was also able to get some much needed items.
“At Home Depot this morning they were very organized,” said Rose. “They were very friendly and helpful. This morning there were no lines at all. I got in and got out.”
While most shoppers generally agreed with Rose, some voiced some disappointment about this year’s Black Friday.
Lashonda Allen, home from Atlanta visiting family, and Michelle Robinson from Newton both said this year didn’t feel the same as past years.
“It just doesn’t feel like Black Friday at all,” said Allen. “It should have been called Grey Friday. It’s just different, like not as much going on.”
Another shopper from Newton, who asked not to be named, was complimentary of the workers in all the stores where she shopped throughout the night and into the morning. She was, however, upset about the extended hours and the burden that put on some of the employees.
“Some of us customers are not that happy,” she said. “We like the bargains but we don’t like the customer service folks having to work on Thanksgiving and be away from their families. It just doesn’t seem right.”
Billings, who as a human resources manager, had a slightly different perspective, saying that Target kept its normal staffing model and that the extra hours on Thanksgiving helped some associated financially during the holidays.
“Pretty much the same as last year, it gave team members more of an opportunity to get overtime,” said Billings. “Those that needed it were able to get it, but I do understand how some of the customers feel.”
Despite the relative calm of the morning shopping hours, huge crowds gathered Thursday night, as shoppers tried to get a jump start on Christmas shopping and seek out deals.
One shopper said that when she arrived at the Walmart on Ledo Road in Albany Thanksgiving night, there was hardly any parking spaces left.
“When I got to the store, there were two parking spaces at Chili’s and that was it,” she said. “There were definitely a lot of people out there looking for sale items.
With so many people in the store, she said not everyone was able to get a cart to carry their items in, so she teamed up with some people she met while waiting in line.
“I partnered up with some folks I met in line,” she said. “I had a buggy and they didn’t so I let them put their stuff in mine and they ended up helping me find things I was looking for. It worked out pretty well.”
Although the biggest rush of the holiday shopping for some stores was done between 5 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. Friday, most Albany retailers believe traffic will remain strong throughout the weekend as many stores are still offering savings through Sunday.
“A lot of our sales run through the weekend, so I expect things to stay steady,” said Billings. “It’s been calm this morning (Friday), but it’s going to pick up again.”