LAWRENCEVILLE - Mari Wash was laden with shopping bags and considering a trip to her car to drop them off as she perused the various sales at JCPenney at the Mall of Georgia on Friday afternoon.
"Didn't have any returns," Wash said. "Trying to get some good deals and get a head start for next year."
The Lawrenceville resident said she was shopping for birthday and even next year's Christmas gifts.
JCPenney department stores opened at 5:30 a.m. Friday, the earliest after-Christmas opening in the chain's history, and offered doorbusters until 1 p.m. The chain even placed wake-up calls for customers who had signed up online.
"I got what I wanted," Lawrenceville resident Karen Green said as she was headed toward the store's exit. "Some pillows they had on sale earlier and some other stuff.
"See, now the pillows are $7," Green said, pointing to a bin just inside one of the exits filled with fluffy, white standard pillows.
Target stores, like the one off Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road in Lawrenceville, opened an hour earlier than normal Friday in anticipation of larger crowds of shoppers.
"It's right on par with what we expected," store manager Lindsey Meyer said of crowds and the number of returns that were made at the Lawrenceville Target. "Sales are higher than expected."
Meyer said she had heard on the radio that Friday was being touted as the "Second Black Friday."
"It does kind of seem to resemble that a little," she said.
"It has been absolutely phenomenal," JCPenney store manager Keith Booker said of Friday's crowds there, and for many retailers, large buying crowds the day after Christmas would be a small blessing after seeing what may be the worst holiday shopping season in decades.
According to preliminary data from SpendingPulse - a division of MasterCard Advisors that tracks total sales paid for with credit cards, checks and cash - retail sales fell between 5.5 percent and 8 percent compared with last year. Excluding auto and gas sales, they fell 2 percent to 4 percent, according to SpendingPulse.
Sales of women's clothing dropped almost 23 percent while men's clothing sales slipped more than 14 percent and footwear sales fell 13.5 percent. Sales of electronics and appliances fell even more drastically, dropping almost 27 percent.
More people did appear to shop online, particularly in the last two weeks of the season, when storms hit. Online sales dipped just 2.3 percent, SpendingPulse said.
Many stores are likely to report a loss for the fourth quarter, said NPD senior retail analyst Marshal Cohen.
Stores were hoping that big discounts the day after Christmas could lure people out and help stem those losses.
A fuller indicator of how retailers fared will be available Jan. 8, when major stores report same-store sales, or sales at locations open at least a year, for December.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.