Pat Pitt traveled three hours to spend time with her family during Thanksgiving and to catch some Black Friday deals. JCPenney at The Pines Mall was just one of the stores Pitt, who lives in Osceola, stopped in with her family.

“We’re regulars,” Pitt said. “This was on our list to hit.”

Pitt and her sister, Donna Burnett, hoped to find items offered in JCPenney’s Black Friday advertisement in addition to any other bargains Thursday night.

“We didn’t find everything,” Pitt said, referring to the advertisement.

Burnett, who lives in Sheridan, used to travel to Osceola to visit her sister and take part in Black Friday shopping, but she said this year they decided to switch it up.

“For years, I went to visit my sister with my mother,” she said. “But, since my mother passed, I’ve been staying home and they had no one coming to their house. So they said ‘we’re coming there,’ and I said, ‘alright, come on, let’s go and let’s do this.’”

JCPenney’s doors opened at 2 p.m. Friday, but the line was wrapped around the building extending into the adjacent parking lot well before then. According to general manager Margie Murphy, security was on hand to help with the crowd and line control.

Working Black Friday for the first time, assistant manager Charlene Winston was surprised by the turnout.

“It has been a pleasant crowd,” said Winston. “So we didn’t go through all of the stammering over people. Everybody was nice and nobody was rude.”

As a part of Black Friday, JCPenney customers received coupons ranging from $500 off $500, $100 off $100 and $10 off $10. The coupons were given on a first come, first served basis. Clothes, jewelry, home goods and shoes were just some of the many items advertised for Black Friday.

“The sales are about the same, but what I like in here (Pine Bluff) is that they have plenty of people to help you,” Pitt said. “I’ve never seen that in any of the other stores.”

Black Friday around the nation

Retailers worked hard to attract shoppers to stores on Black Friday, offering in-person deals meant to counter the ease of shopping by phone on Amazon. A better economy and colder weather helped, to be sure.

But stores have also tried to improve the store experience and offer better service. They’ve also made a big push toward offering store pickup for online orders, hoping to get people to pick up more items.

But they’re fighting a circumstance in which online leader Amazon is the first and only stop for many shoppers. So they’re getting creative with the deals. Victor Moore said he arrived about two hours ahead of Best Buy’s 8 a.m. opening in Nashville and scored one of the about 14 “doorbuster” deals on a 55-inch Toshiba smart TV for $280, a $220 savings.

Moore said he’s done some online shopping, but the allure of in-store-only deals drew him out from behind the computer.

“This is the first successful doorbuster that I’ve ever been a part of,” Moore said. “I’ve been in lines before, but never actually got the items that I was waiting for.”

But Black Friday isn’t what it used to be. It has morphed from a single day when people got up early to score doorbusters into a whole month of deals. That has thinned out the crowds. And brick-and-mortar stores face plenty of challenges.

With the jobless rate at a 17-year-low of 4.1 percent and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases for November and December. The National Retail Federation trade group expects sales for that period to at least match last year’s rise of 3.6 percent and estimates online spending and other non-store sales will rise 11 to 15 percent.

But analysts at Bain say Amazon is expected to take half of the holiday season’s sales growth. Amazon said Friday that Thanksgiving continued to be one of its busiest shopping days, with orders through its app up over 50 percent from a year ago.

Overall, online sales on Black Friday rose 18. 4 percent to $640 million, from a year ago, as of Friday morning, says Adobe Analytics. Thanksgiving generated a total of $2.87 billion in online spending, up 18.3 percent from a year ago, the data firm said.

About 69 percent of Americans, or 164 million people, intend to shop at some point during the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to a survey released by the NRF. It expected Black Friday to remain the busiest day, with about 115 million people planning to shop then.

“The consumer still likes to go to the stores,” said Charles O’Shea, Moody’s lead retail analyst. “I’ve seen a lot of traffic."

The shift to online buying is a major factor as industry analysts watch how the nation’s malls fare this holiday shopping season. The Mall of America in Minnesota says that 2,500 people were in line at the 5 a.m. opening Friday, in line with a year ago.

Back at home

Just across town from The Pines Mall, shoppers swarmed the electronics section at Walmart to get their hands on various HD televisions, gaming consoles and $2 DVDs.

Lavesha Batmon and Whaneay Pryor showed up roughly four hours later, unaware that the store opened at 6 p.m. for Black Friday on Thursday.

“I see we missed all of the good stuff — all of the good stuff,” said Batmon. “I hate we missed it, because we missed the good deals. I wanted a 60-inch for $130.00.”

Initially, Pryor had one goal in mind for Black Friday. But that all changed when she entered the store and saw the various deals on display.

“I was looking for my boy’s basketball goal,” Pryor said, adding that she was happy to get her son’s goal. “It was the only thing that was on my heart, but my friend Lavesha talked me into getting more.”

And even though Batmon missed out on a deal for a television, she managed to get other items she wanted.

“We came in here for the kids, so we could get some of their Christmas shopping out of the way,” she said.

Items for the kids were on the minds of many, including Jamie Foote and her sister, Antonett Conner, who dug through crates of $3 socks to find sizes for her children. In addition to socks, Foote was in search of other deals for them.

“I’m looking for the $5 toys for the kids,” Foote said, searching through the toys section.

While she was helping her sister find things, Conner, a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff nursing student, had her sights set on a printer and a few other items, she insisted.

“I just came to get the simple stuff,” she said as she searched for “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas: The Play” in the discounted DVD crate.

On Friday morning, shoppers flipped through the Black Friday ads as they walked down the aisles in Lowe's hoping to catch a deal, including Glenda Dean. Every year Dean comes to Lowe’s during Black Friday.

“I came for my Poinsettias,” said Dean, who had a basket full of green Poinsettias. “They are always on sale every Black Friday for $0.99. I normally get red ones, but this year I’m changing.”

Dean also came to Lowe’s in search of a shelf, which she was able to get.

“I’m not a crazy shopper,” she said. “If I get it, I get it, and if I don’t, I don’t.”