NAPLES — Black Friday remained a bright spot for Southwest Florida merchants although it will be a few days before they know how much they rang up in sales.
New this year, many of the stores that rely heavily on Black Friday for holiday sales opened their doors hours after Thanksgiving dinner, including Old Navy, Target, H.H. Gregg appliance store, Sears, Kmart and Toys R Us.
The National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent this year to $586 billion.
This is due to shoppers like Doug Munro and his wife, Vera, a part-time Southwest Florida couple, who have been coming to Miromar Outlets in Estero on Black Friday for the past three years.
"The prices are amazing," he said as he sat Friday, waiting for his son and daughter-in-law, who were visiting for the weekend.
Vera Munro said she never comes out with a list, but the couple's children do, with a goal of filling a suitcase with goods bought on Black Friday. The Munros spend most of the year in Canada.
Many area stores and malls opened their doors early for Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. It's so-named because that's when retailers historically turned a profit, seeing their books go from red, losses, to black, a profit.
Later Friday, at Dillard's at Coastland Center mall in Naples, managers reported greater Black Friday sales.
"We are on track to actually go over 20 percent in sales over last year," said Nicole Nicholls, assistant store manager. "We are very excited."
Although Dillard's officials couldn't reveal a specific dollar figure Friday evening, Nicholls said the store at Coastland Center in Naples is hoping for a sales total of more than $250,000 Friday. The retailer opened at 8 a.m. Friday, just two hours before normal business hours.
Analysts said many shoppers opted to order online or by using their phone to avoid making a trip to crowed stores. Shop.org forecasts online holiday sales to grow 12 percent over last holiday season to as much as $96 billion.
The average holiday shopper will spend $749.51 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and other items, up roughly $9 from what they spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Gary Jackson, an economics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero, said he suspects Black Friday sales figures will improve compared with last year, yet it may not be what some of the businesses would like to see in the long run.
"The economy is still in recovery," Jackson said. "People are still being careful and are still concerned about jobs and the economy."
Shoppers with smartphones had a convenient way this year to find Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets and other merchandise.
Three in 10 retailers, or 29 percent, promoted their in-store Black Friday deals by sending mobile alerts, up significantly from the 18.4 percent last year, according to Shop.org. In addition, 80.6 percent of retailers used Facebook to alert shoppers to in-store deals, up from 73.7 percent last year, the website reported.
Many stores such as the new clothing retailer H&M at Coastland Center mall in Naples, Nike Factory Store at the Miromar Outlets in Estero and Best Buy in North Naples said holiday sales information had to come through corporate offices and those sales figures weren't released Friday.
Jeff Staner, Miromar's vice president, said he would know better on Monday how much the Outlets stores took in.
Farther south, a Target manager at the Pine Ridge Road store said it had been busy throughout the day, but she couldn't discuss the sales figures. Target spokeswoman Jessica Stevens said stores had large crowds across the county before they opened.
Customers tended to stay longer in stores compared to previous years and they were browsing and shopping across categories instead of just rushing to doorbuster deals, Stevens said.
Friday afternoon, Stevens said it was too early to say if there was an increase in sales online compared to store sales.
Many stores and malls didn't seem as busy as years past early Friday, but as the day progressed, shoppers filled stores across Southwest Florida, merchants said.
Doug Munro joked he wasn't doing much shopping, just carrying bags. And he wasn't the only husband waiting for his wife Friday. Men sat patiently around a fountain in the center of Miromar Outlets while their significant others shopped.
Coastland Center officials said the mall's parking lot was about 90 percent full Friday afternoon. More than half the mall's roughly 120 stores opened at midnight.
Mall senior general manager Glen Harrell said the volume of cars in the parking lot at the mall was encouraging for the holiday shopping season.
"This Black Friday is much more aggressive than what we have had in the past," Harrell said. "Judging from traffic, we would say that this is going to be a very good Black Friday."
Harrell said the new H&M and Macy's and Sears promotions and sales lured more shoppers to the Naples mall.