Crowds gather outside JCPenney on Thanksgiving Day at Westfield Culver City. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Eager customers lined up outside malls throughout Southern California on Thanksgiving afternoon, hoping to get in a serving of shopping before turkey and pie.

Many lined up early to get a crack at doorbuster specials.

At Westfield Culver City, about 400 were queued up outside JCPenney before the store opened at 3 p.m. People tired of standing were perched on overturned shopping carts, while others dragged along strollers and in one case, a pair of crutches.

By noon, Aleyda Rodas, 49, was in line for what would be her first Thanksgiving Day shopping experience. Rodas, who brought along her husband, daughter and grandchildren, said they hoped to pick up clothes and shoes before hurrying back home to eat Thanksgiving dinner by 6 p.m.

Her goal was to snag a free gift card that JCPenney was giving out to early birds. Rodas, who doesn’t work, said her husband had a steady job as a school janitor. But some extra health expenses had eaten into their budget this year. She planned to spend no more than $100 on Thursday, and expected that her overall holiday spending would be less than last year.

Despite the hassle of spending a chunk of turkey day standing in line, Rodas said she preferred shopping in person to shopping online.

“Online seems better in that I don’t have to come wait in line,” she said. “But then if it doesn’t fit, I waste more time later.”

J.C. Penney Co. is just one of several retailers that have pushed Black Friday sales into Thursday in a rush to compete with e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar rivals. At 5 p.m., Macy’s, Best Buy and Toys R Us are kicking off their doorbuster sales.

For retailers, the holiday season is crucial, with November and December accounting for as much as 40% of annual revenue. The National Retail Federation predicts November and December sales will grow 3.6% to $655.8 billion, slightly up from the same period in 2015.

Some Thanksgiving shoppers planned to pick up a giveaway and then come back later to shop.

Sally Rocha, 62, got in line outside the JCPenney at Westfield Culver City half an hour before the doors opened. An hour later, Rocha — along with her husband, son, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend — were heading home.

Rocha, a seasoned Black Friday shopper, said they had come just for the coupons. Each had gotten a $10 card, which they planned to spend later. Rocha said she would shop in earnest Friday, hitting up Target, Kohl’s and JCPenney’s.

Her husband, Bill, said he was a more reluctant shopper.

I "didn’t want to sleep on the couch tonight,” he said, before adding that the family was shopping “for fun,” not “for the need.”

Heather Rocha, their daughter, said she had already done most of her shopping online. Last week, she said, she and her boyfriend picked up a 70" Samsung TV at a pre-Black Friday sale at Costco marked down to $1,250 from $2,000. They saw the special in the store but ordered it online because they couldn’t fit the TV in their car.