CRYSTAL LAKE – Gail Pagor and her husband were up at 4:30 a.m. in preparation for Black Friday shopping.
The McHenry couple made their first stop at Menards in Crystal Lake when the doors opened at 5 a.m. before heading to the next store on their list.
It had a been a few years since they participated in the biggest shopping day of the year, but this year’s deals were too good to pass up.
“It’s always fun,” Gail Pagor said. “Other than forcing yourself to get up in the morning, you have to be prepared. The lines aren’t bad and we were able to get toys for the kids.”
The duo joined throngs of shoppers who braved the frigid temperatures Friday morning in the hope of finding that special gift for someone or even themselves.
The madness started even earlier this year, with hordes of bargain hunters cutting their Thanksgiving celebrations short Thursday to shop.
Historically, the holiday shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving. But sale opening times have slowly crept earlier and earlier. This year, some big-box retailers opened as early as 8 p.m. Thursday.
About 17 percent of shoppers planned to shop at stores on Thanksgiving, up from 16 percent last year, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers this month by International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs.
“The shoppers are mandating when they want to shop,” said Peter Gill, spokesman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “The brick-and-mortar retailers are responding to what the customer wants.”
As many as 147 million shoppers were expected to hit the stores during the three-day weekend after Thanksgiving, a slight decrease from the 152 million who shopped last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Retailers also are expecting a 4.1 percent increase in holiday spending compared with last year. Black Friday sales can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.
Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $749 during the holidays, up from $740 last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Total spending is expected to reach $586.1 billion.
A well-thought-out plan is key to a successful Black Friday shopping experience, Gill said. “You really need to map out your strategy ahead of time. People go to the stores because it’s a fun experience, and the social aspect of shopping on Black Friday plays a role in that.”
Residents unable or unwilling to brave the long lines and crowds still have other opportunities to find holiday deals with Cyber Monday approaching and stores staggering sales.
Online numbers are expected to increase 12 percent this year to $96 billion, according to shop.org, the e-commerce wing of the National Retail Federation. Nearly 52 percent of people will shop online, up from 47 percent last year.
“There are a lot of door-busters, but promotions will continue through the shopping season,” Gill said. “It’s continuing to evolve. Retailers are competitive, and we are not out of this economic slump yet.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.VIDEO: Crystal Lake shoppers brave cold for Black Friday deals‘Shop local,’ county’s small businesses say