Considered by many to be the official start of the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday is a critical day for retailers, as sales often help push stores into profitability, according to the National Retail Federation.
The November-December period accounts for 25 to 40 percent of annual sales. For 2011, that's almost half a trillion dollars in revenue from spending on everything from computer tablets to toys.
A record number of shoppers are expected to head out to stores across the country this weekend to take advantage of discounts of up to 70 percent. For three days starting on Black Friday, 152 million people are expected shop, up about 10 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Source: The Associated Press
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By Friday morning, there was scant evidence of the thousands that had packed the Tanger Outlet Centers in Bluffton just hours earlier.
But the fatigued postures and bloodshot eyes of salespeople still working betrayed the harrowing effects of the night before.
"It was a madhouse," said Palmetto Moon salesman Paul Minnix, wearing a thousand-yard stare near the end of his 16-hour shift.
It was Minnix's first time working a Black Friday, and he confessed to being apprehensive about the experience.
"I was nervous and didn't know what to expect," he said. "There were definitely more people than I would have thought."
At the peak of the overnight shopping frenzy, "well over 5,000 people" were at the outlets, according to general manager LaDonna Shamlou.
Lines formed outside stores earlier than ever this year, as many local retailers opened earlier than ever.
By the time Tanger opened at 10 p.m. for its inaugural "Moonlight Madness" sale, shoppers had already been waiting for at least two hours, Shamlou said.
"Looking at the crowd last night, it's almost hard to believe we're in a recession," she said. "People were in great moods and very festive. And I've already received very encouraging preliminary reports from my tenants."
At the Best Buy just up U.S. 278 from the outlets, shoppers began lining up at 10 a.m. for the midnight opening, according to manager Zach Pickering.
By the time the doors opened -- five hours earlier than in 2010 -- the line stretched about 150 yards across six storefronts. Pickering said shoppers made a beeline for the laptops and Blu-ray players.
Pickering said his employees were holding up well after the overnight onslaught.
"We did plenty of shifting and gave them free food and drinks," he said. "But they were kept pretty busy."
Angie Sesti's night at Target in Bluffton was no different.
Leaving work at 8 a.m., Sesti said she and many of her coworkers faced unusually long walks to their cars Friday morning.
"We all had a really tough time finding parking spots last night. I got here at 9:30, and we didn't open until midnight," she said. "But by the time we got here, the lot was just packed."
Sesti said that, save for an altercation between two women over a perceived bump from a shopping cart, the night went smoothly. It helped, she said, to have plenty of food and Red Bull on hand.
Would she want to work another Black Friday?
"Absolutely," she said. "When those doors open and people start coming in, it's exciting. Time just flies."
Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.