Sure there were those shoppers who arrived at stores at midnight on Black Friday, and shopped all night, driven by lattes and 50-percent off deals.


Meet the uber shoppers, the ultra-marathoners of retail, if you will: Theresa Draves and Nichelle Bicking of Audubon, bedecked in red t-shirts bedazzled with the words 'Shopping Queen' and topped with green festive head gear sprouting stars.

Draves began her consumer warm-up at 7:30 p.m. Thanksgiving at a Kohl's store in Mantua Township, Gloucester County, and was still going strong about 5:30 a.m. at the Cherry Hill Mall - a 10 hour, non-stop stretch of purchasing power. They will continue to shop most of today.

The preparation by Draves and Bicking began weeks before as family members emailed them lists, organized by store, of the presents they craved.  The duo then hit store after store, presenting clerks with the lists and letting the employees do the heavy lifting.

"We shop for 24 hours every year," said Draves, who estimated she saved $500 at Kohl's alone.

"It's not the savings," Draves said dryly. "It's the sport of the hunt."

Bicking estimates she gets 90 percent of her Christmas shopping completed in the span.

Stores were crowded throughout the night at retailer centers such as the Cherry Hill Mall, which opened at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving. For many, the Black Friday experience has become a holiday tradition.

Brianna Scott, 33, of Willingboro, was shopping with a friend at the mall. She too had started the night before. Her best purchases were two pairs of jeans at the Pac Sun store.  Normally, she said, they would have been $39 a piece. She got them for $6 each.

"My feet are on fire," she said about 4:30 a.m., while conceding she had just about had enough.

The holiday shopping season kicked off much earlier this year, as at least a dozen national retail chains from Macy's to Gap to Target opened their stores on Thanksgiving Day. The sales continued through Friday, as major retailers refused to concede to online competitors such as Amazon.

The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, is typically the biggest shopping day of the yea and long considered the official start of the holiday buying season. But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. They've also pushed up discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November, which has led retail experts to question whether the Thanksgiving openings will steal some of Black Friday's thunder.

The holiday openings came despite threatened protests from workers' rights groups, which are opposed to employees working on the holiday instead of spending the day with family.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 4 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That's higher than last year's 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits, as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores.

The lure apparently worked for many. Mikaela and Elisaveta Kristo of Northeast Philadelphia went to the mall where they were drawn to deals at Express and Ann Taylor.

"I've had caffeine so I'm good," said Mikaela, clutching several bags with hours of shopping left to go. The sisters said the quality for the price was too good to pass up.

Indeed, stores offered incentives to their brick-and-mortar stores that online retailers can't match. The Home Depot in Cherry Hill, for example, offered coffee and muffins at the entrance, along with .99 cent potted Poinsettias displayed next to them. Shoppers were munching muffins as they loaded the plants into their carts - often by the dozen.

Said one shopper: "I needed the coffee - been going all night."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.