Kelly Gouin's old boxy TV finally died, so for the first time ever, the Mount Pleasant resident waited in line for a Black Friday deal.
For three hours Thanksgiving night, she stood with hundreds of others across the back of Walmart in Wando Crossing in Mount Pleasant for a 32-inch flat-screen TV for $148.
Shortly after 10 p.m., with her prize in her buggy, she waited to be checked out.
“It was definitely worth it,” Gouin said. “It was very orderly.”
Friday morning she was back in the store, this time looking for the 5 a.m. deals. But she wasn't looking for gifts to put under the tree.
“Black Friday shopping is all for me,” she said.
Gouin was among a sea of shoppers who descended on retail outlets throughout the Lowcountry on Friday, some making it part of a two-day marathon of door-buster deals, sacrificing sleep and second helpings of Thanksgiving dinner.
This year's official start to the holiday shopping season started well before the Thanksgiving turkey was carved into leftovers as several merchants like Sears and Walmart kicked off their Black Friday sales Thursday evening — encroaching even more on a day once off-limits to the retail world.
The earlier hours are an effort by stores to make shopping as convenient as possible for Americans, who they fear won't spend freely during the holiday season in November and December because of economic uncertainty ranging from high unemployment to the “fiscal cliff.”
At the same time, consumers have become more savvy with surfing for cheap deals on smartphones, laptops and tablet computers from just about anywhere.
That's put added pressure on brick-and-mortar stores — which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season — to give consumers a compelling reason to leave their homes.
That's becoming more difficult: the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent.
The group releases the results of its Black Friday survey on Sunday.
Retailers might have pulled out a new playbook this holiday season, but the goal still remains the same, said Jeff Green, president and CEO of Phoenix-based retail consultant Jeff Green Partners.
“It's all about the first strike,” he said. “They want to keep you in the store and make sure you spend your dollars with them, not another retailer.”
Green cautioned that Black Friday and this weekend's deals might exhaust many of the deep discounts for merchants due to low inventories.
“I've been telling consumers to buy now,” he said. “There are five weekends in his holiday season, and they may see some out-of-stock items closer to the end of the holiday season.”
He said Black Friday continues to lose some of its luster to “Gray Thursday,” an image that will continue for years to come.
“It will be 'the norm' going forward. Even with unions and employees pushing back on it, it's all about the consumer, and the chains will have to figure how to deal with their employees,” he said. “You can't afford to not be one of the first stores open.”
The new playbook merely meant Black Friday faithfuls had to adapt with fewer hours of sleep.
Among those was Sean Fockler, 24, who hadn't slept when he showed up to Best Buy in North Charleston early Friday morning to buy a 32-inch Samsung TV for $247.
“It's cutthroat,” he said. “Everyone is like: 'I want that TV.' ”
Faye Kropp started her shift at Toys R Us at 6 p.m. and finished at 4 a.m.
As soon as work ended, her 15-year tradition of shopping on Black Friday kicked in. She sat in the food court with her family at Northwoods Mall sifting through store circulars.
“The economy is bad but no matter what, the kids are going to have their Christmas. The kids are not going to suffer. Santa has to be in their lives,” she said.
Ashley Aytes of James Island, who was at TJ Maxx in West Ashley, shopped from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., slept a few hours and started again at 5:45 a.m. She saw fights at Walmart over TVs and said it had more of its advertised items in stock versus other stores.
The best deal she found was this morning at Stein Mart — three Columbia fleeces for $3 each.
“It's all premeditated,” she said. “Everyone has a plan of what they're getting.”
Not everyone was out shopping early, like Chanel Garland of Summerville.
She avoided the Thursday night crowds and instead spent time “being lazy and watching movies” with her family. Her shopping started around 10 a.m. Friday.
“It probably would've been worth coming out last night, but I didn't want to get trampled,” Garland said.
Natalie Caula, Andy Lyons and The Associated Press contributed to this story.