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'Exciting morning'
Shoppers hit stores early; electronics top targets

COVINGTON - Local retailers were seeing green on Black Friday.

Shoppers braved the chilly temperatures to line up in the wee hours of the morning to improve their chances at getting a good deal.

By 10 a.m., three hours after opening, several parking lots at The Mall at Stonecrest in Lithonia were at full capacity, according to General Manager Patricia Elmore Edge.

Two department stores, JCPenny and Sears, opened at 4 a.m., and shoppers were already lined up at 2 a.m., Edge said.

"They all had inserts from the paper listing doorbuster (sales). I've seen people with lists with those things circled. The majority of people get out and go look for doorbusters and move on to the next store," she said.

At the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Conyers, "We've had a really exciting morning," said Manager Paula Burns. "Our customers have responded very well to our specials. It's going to be a huge weekend."

Burns said electronics, especially flat screen TVs in all sizes, along with toys and appliances, were tops on shoppers' lists.

The store is open 24 hours, and shoppers started streaming in at about 4 a.m., Burns said.

Meanwhile, at Kmart in Covington, "It's been a good day so far," said Manager Don Buckner.

About 250 people were waiting in line when the store opened at 6 a.m., Buckner said.

Electronics were the hot sellers, including GPS systems, high-definition televisions and MP3 players, he said.

Kohl's in Conyers opened at 4 a.m. A manager there said she couldn't estimate how many people were in line but added that it was a pretty big crowd.

Once the doors opened, shoppers didn't head for the clothing racks: it was DVD players, GPS systems and digital cameras they wanted, the manager said.

Similarly, at Goody's in Covington, toys, iPods and remote control cars were the big sellers, although clothing items such as coats and polar fleece vests and jackets were also popular, according to Manager Dennis Lippert, who said sales were up from last year.

Goody's in Covington opened at 4:30 a.m. for a few shoppers standing in line, though the advertised opening time was 5 a.m., Lippert said.

Recognizing a potentially tough shopping season ahead, stores began discounting weeks ago, with such gimmicks as door busters and expanded hours. While top luxury stores continue to do well, merchants that cater to middle and lower income shoppers have suffered as consumers struggle with higher gas and food prices and a slumping housing market.

Last year, retailers had a good start during the Thanksgiving weekend, but many stores struggled in December and a shopping surge just before and after Christmas wasn't enough to make up for lost sales.

This year, analysts expect sales gains to be the weakest in five years. Washington-based National Retail Federation predicted that total holiday sales will be up 4 percent for the combined November and December period, the slowest growth since a 1.3 percent rise in 2002.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: If you shop

Tips on holiday shopping from the Better Business Bureau:

Returns/Exchanges

· Save the receipt. Even if a store does not have a return policy, this information may be needed for warranty repair to verify payment.

· Find out each store's policy regarding refunds/exchanges/store credits before making a purchase. Do not assume you have the right to return items just because it is not posted or no one has said otherwise.

· If refunds or exchanges are allowed, find out the following:

a) Is there a specific time period in which items may be returned?

b) Must the item be in the original packaging?

c) Will there be a restocking fee if you change your mind?

d) Can you return the item to another store location?

e) Will the store give money back or will you be required to make an exchange or receive store credit?

Gift cards

· Buy from reputable sources, preferably directly from the store and if possible, not off a rack. Do not buy the gift card from online auction sites because it's difficult to know whether the card is stolen or if it will arrive in the promised amount.

· Always personally examine the card for signs of tampering, specifically looking for evidence of the PIN number having been exposed.

· When buying a gift card, keep the original purchase receipt with the card as proof of purchase.

· Immediately after buying a gift card, ask the cashier to scan the card itself to ensure the card is valid and has the proper value.