Cory Scott, assistant vice president for property management at Tysons Corner Center mall in Virginia, said tenants that opened at 4 p.m. also had good lines waiting outside, and there was a second rush of traffic at midnight. Around 7 a.m. things were markedly slower, as the early birds headed home and the Friday shoppers had yet to arrive.
"The traffic is good and the number of shopping bags in all the shoppers' hands is very strong this year," Scott said.
Moody's analyst Charlie O'Shea, who visited stores in Northern New Jersey on Thursday, said the lines at Target were what really stood out to him. He arrived at a Target about 30 minutes ahead of the open, and said about 200 people were in line. At Wal-Mart, the crowd waiting to enter was comparable to prior years, but traffic was steadier.
Best Buy also had a ton of foot traffic, and the location closest to his home even had a Porta-Potty out front, O'Shea said. However, the retailer faced challenges online with sporadic website outages throughout the Thanksgiving and Black Friday periods.
RadioShack, which opened many of its stores at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving, also looked competitive, O'Shea said, but added it's still early in the season.
Although O'Shea said retailers don't stand to gain much from opening early in the morning on Thanksgiving, those that open in the evening, close to when people are finishing their meals, will no doubt pick up traffic from competitors.
"The earlier the opening the more traffic you're going to get," he said.
Tom Compernolle, principal at Deloitte Consulting, visited Chicago's Watertower Place. He said around 8 a.m. that much of the frenzy had already died down, because Macy's opened its doors at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
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Compernolle also said it's hard to gauge sales by the size of the crowds. Last year, shoppers flocked to the stores for Black Friday sales, but the actual numbers didn't show growth.
"I think we're probably going to see the same thing now," Compernolle said. "The frenzy of Black Friday maybe has leveled."
According to the National Retail Federation, spending from Thanksgiving through Black Friday fell 2.9 percent last year.