By Jason Hanna and Ann Hoevel, CNN
(CNN) — Like a football coach preparing for a rival, Nicki Shoulders has been seriously game-planning for Black Friday — right down to the play sheet.
The Tennessee mother of three created a master page of the stores she and her friend want to hit near Nashville, when they open, the toys and other wares they want and the special prices.
On Thanksgiving, she’ll browse newspaper ads as the family prepares for dinner, making sure she didn’t miss any tantalizing deals in her online research.
Crowds? Stress? Sleeplessness? Bah. She knows what she wants, and she’s going to have fun getting it.
“It’s just the adrenaline and the rush and the excitement,” said Shoulders, 26, of Lafayette. “And we want to make sure that we’re able to get what we want.”
Black Friday is the day on which we’ve heard about a few stampedes, fights and even deaths over the years as eager shoppers pushed their ways toward cut-rate electronics or “it” toys like Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies and Tickle Me Elmos.
The vast majority avoid violence, but shoppers on Black Friday — the day-after-Thanksgiving event in which stores lure holiday shoppers with sales — still endure huge crowds at odd hours, even though holiday deals can be found on other days in stores and online.
Up to 138 million people plan to shop in U.S. stores on Black Friday and the weekend, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation. The federation says it’s not clear what percentage of U.S. holiday shoppers visit stores on Black Friday, but shoppers reported spending about $41.2 billion over 2009′s Black Friday weekend. The federation forecasts that in-store retail sales for 2010′s entire months of November and December will be $447.1 billion.
What compels shoppers to head into Black Friday’s mad rush? For Jasmine Leisa Grimes — who at 29 will be making her first go of it — it’s her competitiveness. It has caught up with her. The Atlanta, Georgia, resident no longer wants to miss the deals that friends were telling her they got in stores.
“I’m going to be tired from the L-tryptophan in the turkey, but so what? I’m going to treat [Black Friday] like it’s my job,” she said. She’ll be doing heavy research Thursday before dinner, and she wasn’t sure whether she and her boyfriend would have time to sleep before heading for an early opening Friday.
“He wasn’t excited before, but we’re talking flat-screen TVs at a fraction of the price, so he’s on board,” she said.
The New York native says she’s not worried about wading into the masses: “I’m a New Yorker, so forget about crowds and tempers.” As for the online alternative? “I feel like I wouldn’t get the same deals online. I think it’s an exclusive thing to be in the store at that time to get those prices,” she said.
It’s not hard to find Black Friday haters. On Facebook pages devoted to pooh-poohing the day, writers accuse shoppers of being puppets controlled by marketers.
“No sale is worth me being at freakin Target at 4 a.m. on my day off!” someone wrote on an “I Hate Black Friday” page.
Jennifer Brecher, 39, doesn’t enjoy shopping to begin with, so she avoids crowded Black Friday like the plague. She’d rather shop online or visit stores later. She tried the day just once, at the urging of a sister-in-law who wanted to duck into a store to buy a computer.
“I said, ‘OK, but I may run out screaming,’” the El Dorado Hills, California, resident said. (She survived the 15-minute transaction.)
While the Black Friday opponents have a home on Facebook, the deal-seekers find comfort online, too. Multiple online communities devote themselves to pre-Black Friday sale announcements, coupon proliferation and strategy sharing.
Black Friday shopper Crystal Vania has seen these sites, but she waits until after Thanksgiving dinner to see the advertisements. “People looking in advance, it seems so forgetting of the Thanksgiving holiday. This way, you acknowledge Thanksgiving and then have a fun day the next day,” she said.
She and her husband might visit stores from 4 a.m. to about noon Friday. If they get deals, great. But people are the main attraction.
“We’re both kind of people watchers,” said Vania, 45, of Florissant, Missouri. “Usually you strike up a conversation with someone: ‘How was your Thanksgiving?’ It’s more of a social event, and it’s a tradition that we’ve done all of our lives.”
Black Friday has that name because it’s the day retailers historically began to go “in the black,” or make a profit, for the year. It is one of the year’s busiest shopping days, though the Saturday before Christmas often is busier, according to the retail federation.
The cultural significance of Friday after Thanksgiving has varied. Dan Butler, the federation’s vice president of merchandising and retail operations, said sales were rare in the 20th century’s first half, but stores started marking down merchandise on that day in the 1950s and 1960s.
Retailers began to have special sales at different times in the 1970s, but because Black Friday was for years the first weekend of markdowns, consumers count on that day for sales, and retailers oblige.
“It became ingrained in our culture. People go home to visit families and have one of the few times they can go shopping together. It’s a social tradition as well as an economic tradition,” Butler said.
For Shoulders, the Tennessee shopper, Black Friday is an enjoyable way to get more value for her kids’ presents.
“We’re exhausted when we get home, but we look forward to this every year,” she said.