The following story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the J.C. Penney statement.
TheStreet reporter Brian Sozzi is visiting a dozen key retailers on Thanksgiving and Black Friday to assess their performance during one of the biggest shopping events of the year.
At four J.C. Penney stores in the New York area, visited from 6:00 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving, shoppers were snapping up non-door-buster apparel and blitzing the ladies' shoe department.
"It just feels busier," said a J.C. Penney employee, comparing this year's Black Friday experience to last year's. The employee preferred to remain anonymous.
And this employee could be on to something. The company issued a statement about Black Friday sales, suggesting the department store retailer is doing better than expected this year.
"We saw a strong surge of customers visit J.C. Penney beginning at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving," said CEO Mike Ullman in the statement, adding, "I'm encouraged by our results thus far."
J.C. Penney expects fourth-quarter same-store sales to increase by 2% to 4%, following a 2% gain last year. The statement did not update guidance.
And unlike last year, J.C. Penney's home department was attracting shoppers, likely reflecting better-arranged sections and lower prices on private-label housewares. In the fourth quarter of 2013, J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman said that gross margins in the home department were down "materially" as the company aggressively discounted slow-moving merchandise bought by former CEO Ron Johnson. J.C. Penney's home department accounts for about 11% of its annual sales.