By  on November 26, 2007

Judging from the crowds in line to snap up the latest gear, it's once again going to be an electronics holiday.

The interest in electronics was apparent at chains such as Circuit City and Best Buy throughout the first official shopping weekend of the holiday season. In a scene repeated throughout the country, about 1,000 people waited on line for Best Buy's Lexington Avenue and 86th Street flagship to open at 5 a.m. on Friday. Some had arrived at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day hoping to buy Compaq laptops and Samsung HDTVs at drastically reduced prices.

"There was a lot of anticipation," said Andre Sam, a Best Buy spokesman. "There was a party atmosphere until the store opened. A lot of people waiting for computers, flat-panel TVs, digital cameras, GPS systems. Shoppers just wanted to load up their carts."

Unlike Black Friday 2006, when items were reduced for six hours only, Best Buy this year kept the sale in place for the entire day on Friday and extended sale prices on some items through Saturday, although many of the advertised doorbusters sold out within minutes Friday. "We had steady traffic through the entire [Black Friday] period," Sam said. "It's literally a playground for electronics out there. There are so many rides you can get on. There's a plethora of things to choose from. Just looking at inventory levels leads me to believe we're going to have a very great holiday."

Consumers began lining up at Circuit City stores on Thursday, with consumers in the Richmond, Va., area arriving between 5:45 a.m. and noon on Thanksgiving Day. Stores opened at 5 a.m. and were "very busy," said a spokesman.

"People were interested in notebook computers, there was a lot of interest in flat-panel televisions, camcorders, GPS systems and movie and music titles," the spokesman said. "We had a fair amount of depth in the product selection. In some cases we had a limited supply, so at 4 a.m., an hour before our stores opened, associates went outside and talked to folks on line and gave vouchers for certain products."

In an effort to ease confusion, crowding and chaos, Circuit City decided to let customers enter stores in groups, rather than throwing the doors open for hundreds of people. "We discovered we could help more people better," the spokesman said. "We're trying to improve the customer experience."But while apparel appeared to be less of a key item over the weekend, there still were strong sellers. At Nordstrom, several handbag designs sold briskly, including Marc Jacobs' Parker Tote for $1,350; Chloé's Heloise satchel, $1,825; Miu Miu's Matelasse, $1,445; Burberry's Regent, $475, and Ramona by Jimmy Choo, $1,850.

There also were strong sellers in watches and fine jewelry. Diamond watches from Michele, Dior, Longines and Baume & Mercier "sold exceptionally well," a spokeswoman said. Two standouts were Michele's Deco diamond alligator strap watches for $1,425, and Dior's Christal chronograph watch with 488 diamonds and bracelet with pavé diamonds and black sapphire crystals for $19,995. Charriol's Celtic Noir collection with pavé diamonds was popular in prices ranging from $1,695 to $2,995 for bracelets and $1,995 for rings. Two key Nordstrom resources, David Yurman and John Hardy, were in demand as well.

Designer outerwear was strong, with top sellers such as Prada's runway mohair coat (taupe) and short jacket coat, $2,870 and Dolce & Gabbana's black ruffle trench, $1,850, and exploding check trench, $3,485. Other popular outerwear pieces included Burberry‚s ruffle front trench in black, $4,795, Missoni capes-ponchos-wraps, from $2,000 to $3,500, and Chanel's iridescent gray and brown chevron tweed long jacket, $5,300.

Sweaters were popular as befitting the time of year. Oscar de la Renta's black cashmere handknit puff sleeve sweater, $1,990, and brown handknit cardigan with ruffle neck, $2,190, and Lanvin's black merino wool turtleneck with taffeta puff sleeves, $1,920, were among the standouts.

"The two days for us were spectacular, with an over 20 percent increase," said Arnold Orlick, ceo of Fortunoff. "We were more aggressive on our marketing....No doubt the customer is looking for incredible values." Orlick said there was a good response to the chain's Ax the Tax storewide event, giving customers back the amount of tax paid, which depending on where you shopped would be from 7 to 9 percent. "It was particularly effective for us in high-ticket areas," Orlick said.

He cited digital frames, navigation systems, comforters, sheets, jewelry and furniture as pacing sales over the weekend. "There is still a very challenging environment, but you wouldn't know it from this weekend's figures."At Simon Property Group's Lenox Square in Atlanta, the parking lot was 80 percent full from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, with 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. the busiest time. Macy's seemed to be busy, a spokesman said, adding shoes and apparel were the strongest areas.

At the Stanford Shopping Center in Northern California, entertainment, electronics and formal apparel seemed to be the top sellers, the Simon spokesman said. "IPods, iPods and more iPods" were hot, he added.

At Simon's Mall of New Hampshire, the parking lot was 95 percent full at 2 p.m. on Friday. Sales and traffic continued to be strong throughout the afternoon and the 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. period was busier than a typical Saturday evening.

Categories selling well included electronics, gifts, toys and luxury items such as cashmere. The weather was clear and cold so sweaters, hats, gloves and boots were moving briskly.

At Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg, Fla., shoppers were carrying bags containing electronics, athletic shoes and family apparel. Not surprisingly, merchants with deeper discounts or weekend-long sales were seeing greater traffic.

Electronics and junior apparel were moving at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island in New York and sporting goods and athletic footwear retailers saw steady traffic all day.

The Taubman Co. said that luxury was strong all day on Friday at its Cherry Creek Mall in Denver. Retailers reported that price didn't appear to be a factor. Most stores surveyed were reporting moderate increases for the period.

One of Polo Ralph Lauren's Ultimate Polo Collection commemorative trunks in honor of the company's 40th anniversary was sold at the Cherry Creek Mall for $5,000. Only 40 trunks exist in the U.S.

At Taubman's McArthur Center in Norfolk, Va., key categories were electronics, unisex apparel, sportswear, specialty gifts and women's wear. Hot merchandise included the Magellan Maestro 3100 GPS system, Robo Reptile, digital frames-keychains, and women's sweaters.

Taubman reported that sales of mall gift cards were up 50 percent on Friday over the same time last year.

Another Taubman center, the upscale Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, N.J., saw its parking lot reach 98 percent of capacity by 4 p.m. Friday and restaurants were averaging two-hour waits. Mall gift card sales were trending up in the high-single digits over the same time last year for the day. Top-selling categories were jewelry, home specialty, electronics, women's apparel, and unisex apparel.

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