A long line stretched around Toys “R” Us outside Mount Berry Square mall on Thursday evening as parents waited to get the best deals.
Doniel Kolak of Rome ate Thanksgiving dinner at lunchtime and then rushed to the store to be in line at 2 p.m. with his friend Clydia Jones, also of Rome.
They got there an hour before the next people in line.
“The first 200 people in line get a free bag of toys,” Kolak said when asked what motivated him to spend his day standing outside the toy store.
Kenny McDonald arrived at about 3 p.m. from Centre, Ala. Who was he in line for? “My niece,” he said. “A portable DVD player.”
The DVD player was advertised at about $30, McDonald said.
Thanksgiving Day is now called “Gray Thursday” by some retailers and business pundits because many stores now offer special deals, some throughout the day and some beginning later in the evening.
Walmart and other large retailers offered special deals beginning at 8 p.m. on Thursday. That time was two hours sooner than last year for both Rome Walmarts.
Retailers are hoping that the Thanksgiving openings will draw shoppers who prefer to head to stores after their turkey dinner rather than braving the crowds early the next morning. Overall, about 17 percent of shoppers plan to take advantage of Thanksgiving hours, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers conducted from Nov. 15 to Nov. 18. Last year, that figure was 16 percent.
For Black Friday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, 33 percent intend to shop today, slightly down from 34 percent in 2011.
It’s an effort by stores to make shopping more convenient for Americans, who still face economic uncertainty. Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff” that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites such as Amazon.com, where they can get cheaper prices and buy from the comfort of their home or office cubicle.
Early data from IBM Smarter Commerce show that as of noon EST, online sales for Thanksgiving are up 14.3 percent from last year, with just over a quarter of consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site, up from 15.8 percent in 2011.
As a result, brick-and-mortar retailers are trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores by making shopping as easy as possible. In addition to expanding their hours into Thanksgiving, many are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.