Black Friday crowds appear to be thinner this year

The big reason appears to be that Thanksgiving has become the start of the holiday shopping season as more stores were open Thursday. And devices like smartphones and tablets generated just over $1 billion in online sales, setting a record on Thanksgiving.

Yes, there were lines to get into the parking lot. Once inside, yes, the malls were teeming with shoppers. But by having the opportunity to start shopping on Thanksgiving at many locations, consumers noticed it wasn't as crowded as they expected it to be.

"That afforded everybody the opportunity to come earlier, to get a jump start, so I feel like there's less crowds this time around. There are crowds, but not as much as I think there would be.">

Those who have done their homework also realized the one-day only discounts are being spread out. So the pressure is lessened to do all their bargain hunting on Black Friday.

"I think people are spreading out their shopping over a few days instead of all concentrated on Black Friday, which is nice," shopper Erin Spaulding said. "I know there are some sales I'm not going to go to today 'cause it's going to go on tomorrow, too."

But the importance of Black Friday as the official start of holiday shopping may be diminishing. Many retailers have been bombarding customers with deep discounts in emails and online since early November. And there has been a sharp rise in orders being made on tablets and smartphones; up 49 percent on Thanksgiving Day, compared to a year ago, according to IBM Digital Analytics.

Kirthi Kalyanam, Professor of Internet Retailing at Santa Clara University, believes the shift to mobile and internet transactions is causing retailers to start promoting holiday sales earlier. Will this lead to the demise of Black Friday?

"Will it disappear in the next five years? I don't think so, but will we come back and look at it and say, this used to be very important day but not any more in five years, yes," Professor Kalyanam said.

And even deep discounts don't matter when teenagers are willing to queue up in long lines to get into a popular shop.

Small businesses offer great deals on Black Friday

Most of the attention for Black Friday usually focuses on malls and big box stores. But it turns out that smaller mom and pop stores are offering some great deals as well.

Not sure how the big stores did Friday, but the small ones here on Main St. in Pleasanton appeared to do quite well, even without a lot of doorbusters.

On this Black Friday, instead of rushing into a big box store, many shoppers opted for the experience of shopping at small stores right in their own neighborhood.

"They have a variety of things here that you don't find in other places and I do like to give back to my town because I live here," shopper Lainie Krieger said.

Liz Gaouette own Berry Patch on Main St. in Pleasanton. The store has an eclectic mix of toys, jewelry, and crafts made by local artisans at good prices.

"I just don't put a huge markup on it," Gaouette said. "I'm not trying to make a killing, I'm just trying to make a living and provide good service for Pleasanton."

"It's more fun here," shopper Jackie Umland said. "I like to support local businesses, even though I'm not local but my sister is."

One thing the small stores have in common with their big brothers -- sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas can make or break the entire year.

SF police warn shoppers about smartphone thieves

Police are out at San Francisco's Union Square en masse, warning shoppers and others to be vigilant against smartphone robbers.

Frenzied holiday shoppers in Union Square are distracted not only by the bargains, but by their smartphones.

"Everyone's got them out, looking down without paying attention to their surroundings," Officer Will Palladino said. "And it's easy money for the bad guys."

The phone robberies are an epidemic on the streets. Surveillance video shows a woman being mugged on the street and robbed of her cellphone.

It's also happening on public transportation. Muni is a popular spot for the robbers. Passengers feel safe as they ride. Robbers snatch their phones and run.

On Friday, police saturated Union Square and Market St., passing out leaflets that said, "You've been mugged because you weren't paying attention."

"They're walking around with a device that could be worth $400 to $500 dollars in their hands," Lt. Scott Heidohrn said.

Some told us they are more careful now.

"If I have it in my hand, I hold it tight, watching who's around me," shopper Tom Roberson said.

"I put it away and try not to look at it when I'm on the bus or BART or things like that," shopper Julie Taylor said.

But for the most part it was like shooting fish in a barrel; catching people walking around, staring at their smartphones.

"If I lose my phone I'm okay, I guess," shopper Jim Schwartz said. "But not my wallet."

They're all potential victims of a robbery, or worse.

"Especially when people resist, that's when they usually step it up to another level," Officer Anh Nguyen said. "Sometimes they can, you know, push them down or punch them."

Good advice. So please put away your phone before you become a victim.

People say 'Black Friday' more like 'Gray Friday'

From the East Bay to the South Bay, shoppers were out early Friday morning hoping to score some deals. There were still crowds in many places, but some people think the early start on Thanksgiving means "Black Friday" will actually be more like "Gray Friday."

By 4 a.m., it already looked like a Saturday afternoon at the Great Mall in Milpitas, with the parking lot full and shoppers coming and leaving. A lot of people made it an all-night event, hitting different spots for the best deals. "I was pretty surprised it was still packed at 3:00," one shopper said. "It's what, 4:00 now? It's still packed!"

It was the same story at the Sun Valley Shopping Center in Concord. Shoppers could be seen walking in and out all night long. Exhausted employees told ABC7 News they were shocked and didn't expect the crowds to be as big as they were.

A lot of people have voiced complaints on Facebook and Twitter that early Black Friday deals that focus on Thanksgiving take focus away from the holiday and face retail employees to work instead of being with their families. But now that the official holiday is over, many of those same people are shopping for big deals.

The Great Mall plans to stay open for 26 hour straight and sales will last until 10 p.m. Friday.

(ABC7 News reporters David Louie, Laura Anthony, Vic Lee, and Matt Keller contributed to this report)

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