Before deciding where to buy a laptop for his daughter on Black Friday, Nate Bryan was scouring the web for deals. But he was not just looking at retailers' websites.
I use Twitter and Facebook a lot for Black Friday, he said, referring to the day after Thanksgiving when retailers open their doors early and offer eye-popping deals. People interested in computers post what they see online.
Bryan, who lined up on Thanksgiving Day outside of a Best Buy in Springfield, Pennsylvania so he could buy a $500 laptop when the store opened on Friday, said he was using sites like Facebook and Twitter to shop smarter.
I spend more time online doing anything that will save me money, he said.
Before heading to stores this Thanksgiving weekend, many consumers scoured Facebook, Twitter and websites that track Black Friday sales to decide where they wanted to shop.
To win the business of these deal-driven consumers, an increasing number of retailers, including J.C. Penney Co Inc, Target Corp and Kohl's Corp are experimenting with social media this holiday.
Twitter feeds were clogged this week with retailers trying to drum up excitement for the Thanksgiving weekend, which is seen as the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season.
J.C. Penney tweeted about its 4 a.m. post-Thanksgiving day store openings, while Office Depot highlighted its Black Friday deals, including a Vivitar digital camera bundle, complete with a case and mini tripod, for $49.99.
Toys R Us gave its Facebook fans the first glimpse of its Black Friday deals, while Sears held a Facebook sweepstakes to win a $500 gift card and the chance to shop its Black Friday deals before Thanksgiving.
Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, said social media is becoming an integral part of the shopping experience for consumers who want advice from others before making a potential purchase and spending limited cash. Once deals are posting on Facebook or Twitter, consumers often repost them and share them with friends.
It's almost crowd sourcing for opinions, she said. We increasingly need affirmation from our peers and our loved ones and the people that create our lifestyle to feel good about where we are buying things.
NOT ALL SHOPPERS ARE FACEBOOK FANS
Terry Xu was standing outside an OfficeMax in San Francisco on Friday morning, waiting to buy a printer and a monitor when the store opened at 7 a.m.
Before deciding where to go for the best prices, he checked TheBlackFriday.com, a website that posts retailers' Black Friday ads. TheBlackFriday.com also has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page, where it was blasting out deals to its followers and fans on Friday.
But social media has not yet caught on with everyone.
On Friday, shoppers at the Best Buy located across the street from OfficeMax were walking around holding the retailer's newspaper ad, which touted a 32-inch Dynex LCD TV for $299.99 and an Insignia digital camera for $49.99.
Senta Erbe was one shopper who said she preferred seeking deals in ads in her newspaper. Before heading to Best Buy, where she was buying DVDs and an external hard drive, she clipped coupons for stores like Target Corp and Macy's Inc that she intended to visit later in the day.
According to a pre-Thanksgiving survey by consulting firm Deloitte, 40 percent of consumers said they planned to obtain Black Friday sales information from newspapers, while 29 percent said they would look at mailers and flyers.
Twenty-seven percent said they would scan websites dedicated to featuring Black Friday deals, while 24 percent said they would look at retailers' websites.
While social media is still an emerging marketing tool, Kasey Lobaugh, a principal at Deloitte Retail, said many retailers like it because it gives them a way to track how many shoppers they are reaching.
If you send out a URL via Twitter you know how many people clicked on that URL, he said. When you put a newspaper tab out, you have no idea of the traffic in your stores, how much was influenced by seeing an ad in the newspaper that day.
But Salzman said social media has a ways to go in proving it can meaningfully drive retailers' sales.
While companies may attract shoppers by offering special deals -- like when Starbucks Corp allowed Facebook fans to print out an invitation to get a free pastry in its coffee outlets when they purchased a drink -- she said those offers do not necessarily create customer loyalty.
Success lies in a repeat customer, she said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Springfield, Pennsylvania; Editing Bernard Orr))