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Retailers Hope There Is No Gray In Black Friday

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Despite the grim forecast, many retailers are opening super early on this Black Friday, hoping to attract the most determined bargain hunters.

M: There's a lot of things that we really want to take, and that we have been waiting for this special day just for those things. Yeah, we've been saving a lot of money.

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INSKEEP: That's Elmer Blanko(ph), who was out before dawn this morning shopping at Best Buy in Alexandria, Virginia, which is where we sent NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What time did they open?

KEITH: They opened at 5 a.m. However, people got here as early as 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. That's when Elmer got here.

INSKEEP: Wait, wait, wait, excuse me - 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day?

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KEITH: Yeah. So not only did they wait through the night, they waited through the day. It was a McDonald's Thanksgiving for him.

INSKEEP: Oh. Ordered out from McDonald's, and brought them back.

KEITH: Yeah.

INSKEEP: OK, so how did Elmer do, or do you know? Or is he still in there shopping?

KEITH: He's still in there, shopping. He got the laptop he was looking for, and I saw a cartful of video games and some sort of Nintendo gaming system. I think it's the hand-held one.

INSKEEP: So what did people give as an explanation for lining up for hours?

KEITH: Well, it's just, it's a thing to do, it turns out. You know, I tried to coax out stories of economic distress, and they just really didn't exist. Most people are out here actually to buy presents for themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Look out for yourself first.

KEITH: Seriously. Like, oh, what are you buying? Laptop for me.

INSKEEP: I'll take care of the other people later. When it comes time to buy the presents for the other people, then you talk about economic hardship, I suppose.

KEITH: Right. Well, what one person said was, you know, why would you wait out here in the cold for this many hours for somebody else?

INSKEEP: Exactly, exactly. So is it in any way a good sign for retailers that people were lining up for hours?

KEITH: Oh, not necessarily. You know, it's - for retailers, Black Friday, it's a big thing. It gets people excited, and they don't make, they don't necessarily make a ton of money because they're selling these items at cut-rate prices. One thing here, some sort of computer set, was $900 off. So at those kinds of prices, they don't make a ton of money. The hope is that people will look around and see other things they want and buy them, or come back later. But a lot of the people I spoke with said they are only buying things that are on sale.

INSKEEP: So when it comes time to actually buy the presents, they're hoping that people will return to the Best Buy there in Alexandria, Virginia.

KEITH: I think that's the theory.

INSKEEP: Um, OK. And is it unusual, do you think, to have discounts this steep, this early? Seventy-five percent - isn't this the time when you can charge full price because people feel like they have to buy by a deadline?

KEITH: This is the time when you can charge full price in a different year, when the economy is better and when consumer confidence is stronger. But right now, people are conserving their money. Even if they don't have any sort of personal connection to the economic troubles, they're cutting back. And so the stores are cutting prices, which, you know is good for consumers. But if the prices keep getting cut further and further, that's a really bad sign for retailers.

INSKEEP: Ah, Tamara?

KEITH: Yes?

INSKEEP: Be honest now.

KEITH: Yes?

INSKEEP: Have you picked up anything for yourself?

KEITH: No! But the employees keep trying to make me buy cameras and GPSs.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, good luck with that.

KEITH: Thanks.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith at Best Buy in Alexandria, Virginia, this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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