JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day in the U.S. since 2005.
Despite many shoppers turning to online outlets for Black Friday, thousands took advantage of deals at the St. Johns Town Center, where dozens of new retailers and a shuttle service have been added since last year.
Many said heading out to stores for Black Friday is still popular, especially for those who know where to find the discounts.
“Everybody is here, so it's really cool,” shopper Tay Jones said.
Many shoppers at the Town Center turned to their cellphones to get fabulous finds, using apps like Price Grabber, which compares deals on specific items from store to store, and Shop Savvy, which searches for deals and discounts if you scan an item's barcode.
“I got a lot of deals. Bath & Body Works had a deal going on,” Theresa Duncan said. “Saved a lot of money.”
Shoppers were able to use the Town Center's shuttle service by calling 904-610-9182 to be taken from one area of the shopping center to another without having to move their cars.
Many people said they had a strategy to tackle the day, but others took a more casual approach.
“I don't really know if I have a strategy -- just go and try not to spend too much,” Duncan said. “That's the only strategy I can think of.”
In recent years, it has become more common for stores to open on Thanksgiving Day. Some stores launched online Black Friday deals early, and some opened their doors Thursday evening.
Several hundred people poured into the Kohl's on Atlantic Boulevard when the doors opened at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Shoppers took advantage of deals in electronics and home appliances.
"Electronics was a good thing, especially for the kids with the game systems and everything," shopper Kyle King said.
Best Buy opened at 5 p.m. Thursday, and the store in the River City Marketplace was prepared early with a small gate surrounding its store, meant to keep shoppers in line.
“It's the first time I'm actually looking to buy technology for Black Friday,” shopper David Haye said. “Usually, it's clothes and stuff like that, but I heard they have some sweet deals, so I'm going to try to check it out.”
Other shoppers said they'd rather avoid the holiday crowds.
“People trying to fight and I'm not trying to get in any mess,” Michael Shikus said.
This year, Best Buy is offering a larger toy selection for customers as a result of Toys 'R' Us closing its doors earlier this year.
“We really just knew from a customer standpoint of getting people into the building and allowing them to find everything they want all at the same time -- that way they won’t have to make a whole bunch of trips,” said Derek Newton, assistant store manager of operations.
Newton, who helps manage the Best Buy at the St. Johns Town Center, said this year’s hot items include 4K TVs, laptops and new smart home technology.
“I’ve got a great team in the back,” Newton said. “They’ve been unloading trucks nonstop for the past month or so.”
To make sure they were ready for Black Friday, Newton said Best Buy held several job fairs over the last few weeks and even did a practice run to make sure it all goes smoothly.
Walmart opened at 6 p.m. Thursday. The store manager at the Beach Boulevard location, Kenny Weeks, said this year’s hot items are toys and electronics.
“We have a lot of the same deals that are available online. I think it’s even earlier, so if you don’t want to come in the store, it’s available online, but they’ll go through Friday as long as supplies last,” Weeks said. “We prepare for this thing all year long, to tell you the truth.”
This year, Walmart customers can use the Walmart app to see where the best deals are, leading them exactly to the right aisle.
“A lot of people like to make it to different stores. It’s kind of a tradition. You might go to Walmart, you might go to a couple of different stores, so it makes it easier to get in and out,” Weeks said.
Walmart is also making checkout faster and easier, positioning employees in the busiest sections of the store so shoppers can pay right there, simply using their credit card.
Customers at the new Walmart that opened recently at The Pavilion at Durbin Park were surprised at the smaller crowds Friday morning.
"This is the new Walmart, so I don’t know if enough people know about it yet, but I’m a little surprised at the parking lot not being full right now," Eddie Lockamy said. "My wife does a lot of shopping now on the internet, so she’s just waiting for Cyber Monday, I think they call it.”
Wes Pace showed up for a 65-inch TV Walmart had discounted.
“My wife told me they were on sale for 400 bucks. I came up here in 10 minutes," Pace said.