Shoppers flocked to Beaufort County retail stores Friday as the holiday shopping season officially kicked off.
A flood of customers hit big-box stores, such as Hilton Head Island's Walmart, Bluffton's Best Buy and Beaufort's Kmart, as bargain hunters took advantage of holiday deals that started Thanksgiving Day.
The Bluffton Best Buy parking lot was jammed early Friday morning as shoppers wheeled Sharp TVs and Sony home theater equipment to their cars.
Juan Salazar and his son loaded a 40-inch Samsung LED flat-screen TV into their truck.
"We got a great deal on this," Salazar said. "We saw it online and figured we'd come pick it up today. So yeah, it was worth coming out."
At the Hilton Head Walmart, Erin Vanderveldt and her friends searched for discounts.
Vanderveldt, from Tennessee, was visiting for Thanksgiving and planned to browse at Tanger Outlet Center 1 and 2 later in the day.
She said Black Friday shopping has become a tradition.
"We do it every year," she said. "It's fun to get out and finish your Christmas shopping early."
In Beaufort, Kmart manager Alvin Squirewell said customers were especially excited about the store's deep discounts on electronics, children's toys and Christmas goods, such as wrapping paper and artificial trees.
"It's going really well, and we had an extremely busy night," he said.
The store had been open since 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, when more than 60 eager shoppers waited in line to have the first chance at "doorbuster" sales, he said.
Across the country, big-box retailers opened earlier than ever in hopes that the busiest shopping week of the year would give them a boost during what is predicted to be a listless holiday season.
In Beaufort County on Thursday, Walmart and Kmart opened at 6 a.m. Best Buy opened at 6 p.m.
JCPenney, Dick's Sporting Goods, Target and Belk all let shoppers in at 8 p.m. Thursday.
The trend of opening earlier started a few years ago as companies began experimenting with Thanksgiving hours at their stores and launching early Black Friday deals online.
At Bluffton's Target on Friday, manager Brandi Vaudrin said the store was busy Thursday evening and into Friday morning "until about 4 a.m. and started getting busy again around 7 this morning."
"We did an entire Saturday worth of sales (Thursday) night," she said.
Vaudrin, who managed the store last Black Friday, said the crowd and the amount of sales were similar this year.
As Friday wore on, the crowds thinned and by noon settled into a steady stream of weekend shoppers.
"It's just like any busy Saturday at this point," she said.
Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.