Jennifer Gammell has not sat out Black Friday for 19 years — not when she was traveling over the holiday weekend, or living paycheck to paycheck as a young single mother, or even when some of the bargains online began to look more enticing than the doorbuster deals being offered in stores.
The experience has changed over the years. Early on, it was just her and her son Kyle, now 23, waiting in line for discounts (and, sometimes, free toy penguins) at the local Mervyn’s. Now, it has become a family tradition, and her three other sons and her husband, Dave Gammell, sometimes tag along.
The holiday weekend is the busiest shopping period of the year, with an estimated 164 million people — 69 percent of Americans — expected to hunt for deals, according to the National Retail Federation trade group.
This week, the Gammells, who live in Southern California, began visiting stores on Thanksgiving as more businesses stayed open to generate more sales. Here’s a chronicle of their journey through two big holiday shopping days.
6:04 to 6:13 p.m. Thursday
At home in Torrance, the family prepares for its annual Thanksgiving dinner at King’s Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant. Jennifer gathers Black Friday ads from retailers, checks the lists the family has compiled, and packs a change of clothes and a pair of sneakers for the shopping trip after dinner.
6:32 to 7:31 p.m.
The Gammells, lightly dressed for the balmy weather, arrive at the restaurant. They load up on turkey, vegetables, rice and sweets at the buffet.
8:12 to 8:44 p.m.
Their first shopping destination is Target. The store opened earlier in the afternoon, and the post-dinner crowd checks out the merchandise at a leisurely pace. Kurt Gammell, 8, bounds through the aisles looking for Nerf guns and Legos.
Waiting in line, bleary-eyed and bored, can be “torturous,” said Jennifer, who works as an administrative assistant. So the family no longer bides its time outside stores for three or four hours, instead arriving an hour before the doors open or half an hour after, once the crowds have cleared.
Jennifer and her son Bryce, 16, compare the prices of items in Target to similar products online.
Over the holiday shopping season, 80 percent of sales will be made in stores, according to a recent report from the Bain consulting firm. But e-commerce is putting brick-and-mortar retailers on the defensive, with many companies offering discounts on their websites days before Thanksgiving in an attempt to compete with online rivals.
Amazon is expected to account for up to 8 percent of holiday retail sales, according to Bain.
As a result, Mrs. Gammell’s Black Friday timeline has shifted.
“I’ve actually already started shopping online,” she said, days before Thanksgiving. “The tradition is changing.”
9:01 to 9:26 p.m.
The expedition to Target was a mild success. The Gammells scored some good deals on toys and games but missed other discounts they had been considering.
They loaded their purchases into the family van and maneuvered out of the busy parking lot.
9:36 to 10:46 p.m.
Next up: Toys “R” Us. Kurt is on the hunt for board games and “Paw Patrol” play sets. The family is hoping to get some gifts for the extended family. Dave, a lifelong collector of Hot Wheels toy cars, is temporarily sidetracked, admiring a new model based on a vehicle from the film “The Godfather.”
The Gammells buy the toy car. And a Lego set. And some Lego Dimensions video game packs. And some doll clothes and science fiction figurines.
11:07 to 11:20 p.m.
Best Buy is the family’s last stop for the night. They enter hoping to find a new refrigerator, but decide to hold off on the purchase. At times, it feels like they have the store to themselves.
12:03 to 12:04 a.m. Friday
The Gammells stumble home, unload their purchases and then head to bed.
6:34 to 6:43 a.m.
Dave and Jennifer haul themselves out of bed for their second go at holiday shopping. Bryce resists the early wake-up call, telling himself that he will look for deals online later in the day. Kurt has to be coaxed out of his slumber.
6:50 to 6:57 a.m.
On the way to Kohl’s, Jennifer checks the store’s ad for discounts on a new refrigerator. The family has wanted an upgrade on their old, inefficient appliance for a while now. Seeing nothing appealing in the circular, the family decides instead to purchase a Samsung refrigerator online from homedepot.com, where they spend $998 instead of the full $1,774 price.
7:02 to 8:07 a.m.
Expecting packed aisles at Kohl’s, the Gammells arrive to find a sparsely populated store. Kurt persuades his parents to buy him yet another Nerf gun for $19.99.
The family is almost ready to call it a day. Before heading home, they stop at the Starbucks cafe inside a Barnes & Noble bookstore, which is giving out free coffee as a Black Friday perk.
8:58 to 9:13 a.m.
Satisfied with their shopping, the Gammells arrive home, where their living room is lined with bags of toys, clothing and electronics. They head out to a party for one of Kurt’s friends. In total, over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the family spent $1,750.