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Black Friday’ Buyers Focus On Bargains

Above: Shoppers Jeri Hull (L) and Karen Brashear (R) wait in line while shopping at Toys'R'Us during the Black Friday sales event on November 27, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.

This day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, has come to be known as Black Friday. Retailers are extending their hours, and they are competing for consumers who are expected to spend less on presents this holiday season. Steve Inskeep spoke with NPR's Tamara Keith, who was at a Target store in Rockville, Md., which opened at 5 a.m.

Steve Inskeep: Where are you in the store?

Tamara Keith: I'm in the jewelry department but no one is buying jewelry right now — they are here for the iPods and the GPS navigation devices that are being sold from behind the counter.

Were people waiting when the doors opened?

Oh, you better believe it. Some had been here since midnight. I think one guy showed up at 9 p.m. They brought with them lots of blankets.

Does it look like people are willing to spend a lot of money after waiting all those hours?

People are willing to spend on the things they came here for specifically. One thing that I think is interesting: There were 31-inch TVs and 40-inch TVs. People ran to get the 31-inch TVs, but it took a lot longer for people to buy all the 40-inch models. The TomTom GPS devices were less than $100, and they were gone within minutes. The $179 Garmin — they are still here.

Isn't that symptomatic of how people are spending across the country?

People are being careful with their money. One woman told me that her husband told her that she had to be careful ... she is using her debit card instead of her credit card.

How do economists expect this Black Friday to compare to last year?

Black Friday is just one data point in a long holiday season. In reality, the Saturday before Christmas will be a bigger day. This year retailers are better managing their inventory, and there might not be the "barn-burner" sales that they had last year.

There are some signs of economic improvement. Why wouldn't that be reflected in holiday sales?

We've heard the term "jobless recovery" a lot. If you don't have a job or your neighbor doesn't have a job. It doesn't matter what GDP is, it doesn't matter that the economy has grown 3 percent in the last three months, your economy still looks pretty dismal. People are going to remain cautious and that is going to be reflected in the sales.

Some stores were even open on Thanksgiving ...

I spoke to one woman who had gone to Toys "R" Us at midnight in an attempt to get a toy for her kids. The store ran out so then she was here at Target at 4 a.m. waiting in line so that she could possibly get it here. I think she did get the toy.

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