This Friday, if you want to get the best after-Thanksgiving shopping bargains, it's going to cost you something extra: sleep.
Pushing the envelope on an evolving trend in which store opening times have wound backward to 7 a.m., then 6 a.m., 4 a.m., and last year, 3 a.m., most of the nation's most popular retailers have decided this year to begin selling at 12:01 a.m. Friday to bargain-hungry Black Friday shoppers.
Major retailers Best Buy, Target, Macy's, Kohl's, Elder-Beerman, and Old Navy have all moved their store opening times to midnight for Black Friday -- one of the busiest shopping days of the year, so named because it formerly was the day that could move a retailer's balance sheet into the black.
Retailers not only are pushing their starting hours back, they are once again offering steep discounts on popular items, with prices on televisions, game systems, and other electronics so low that they would have been unheard of just a few years ago.
Experts said those who line up early for this year's "doorbuster" specials will find huge discounts on LCD TVs, Xbox game systems, Blu-Ray DVD players, small appliances, and washer and dryer sets.
This Black Friday weekend is especially important to retailers nationwide, as nearly two thirds of shoppers plan to limit their purchases, with the average person spending $704 this season compared with $719 last year, according to a National Retail Federation forecast.
But 152 million people, up 10 percent from last year, are expected to shop this Friday, Saturday, and next Sunday, the federation found. Overall, it expects holiday sales to rise a modest 2.8 percent to $466 billion this season.
Some retailers this year have even moved Black Friday starting times to the day before.
Toys R Us has changed its opening time to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, from 10 p.m. a year ago. Crafts dealer Michaels Stores is opening at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year. The nation's largest retailer, Walmart, will start offering its Black Friday "doorbuster" deals at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year, but the stores are open all day on the holiday.
Meijer also is open all day on the holiday andwill offer doorbuster deals at 6 a.m. that day and another group of discounts at 4 a.m. Friday.
For the 20th year, Kmart stores will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving and reopen at 5 a.m. Friday. Bass Pro Shops in Rossford also plans to open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. It will reopen at 6 a.m. on Friday.
It isn't just the big retailers who will be vying for consumer dollars this year when the clock strikes midnight.
Twenty-five smaller retailers at Westfield Franklin Park have banded together with plans for midnight start times, forcing the mall to throw open its doors -- and provide late-night security -- to shoppers.
The 25 stores are Aerie, Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Bare Escentuals, Bath & Body Works, Caribou Coffee, Charlotte Russe, the Children's Place, the Disney Store, Finish Line, Guess, Hot Topic, Icing, Jimmy Jazz, Justice, Lids, Old Navy, PacSun, Piercing Pagoda, Shi by Journey's, Things Remembered, Torrid, and Troll Beads.
The move to midnight openings has created a small backlash from some people who say it cuts into their holiday celebrations. And some store employees also have objected, for a similar reason.
Brian Dunn, Best Buy chief executive officer, recently told attendees at a business conference that his stores were planning to open at 3 a.m. but decided to change to midnight after Target, Kohl's, and others made that move.
Casey Chroust, executive vice president of operations for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a Who's Who of the nation's top chain retailers, said, "With the current economic situation and the economy still slowly recovering, consumers only have a set amount to spend this year. So retailers want to make sure they get their share of the 'wallet' first, they want to make sure they get that customer and the biggest chance to spend the dollars in their store first.
"It's kind of a 'me too' approach in that it puts pressure on you to put your stuff out there at the same time your competitors do."
Most who shop at stores on Black Friday will find that the hot product this year is the e-reader -- tabletlike devices such as the Kindle or Nook that display electronic versions of books, said Michael Brim, who runs one of the most popular Black Friday deals Web sites, bfads.net.
Shoppers also will find great discounts on Blu-Ray players and especially Blu-Ray DVDs. "A lot of retailers are pairing $5 titles with players," Mr. Brim said.
The best electronics deal this Black Friday, he said, is at Best Buy, which will sell a Sharp 42-inch 1080p TV for $199.
But Target is close with a Westinghouse 46-inch 1080p TV for $298, and Wal-Mart has an Emerson 40-inch 1080p TV for $248, he added.
Walmart has the best deal on video game consoles with an Xbox 4 gigabyte console with a Kinect controller and a $50 Walmart gift card, all for $199. "It's a bigger bundle than you'll get elsewhere," Mr. Brim said.
Other great deals, according to bfads.net analysis, include a $950 value Whirlpool washer and drier combo at Lowe's for $700, a $1,500 value LG washer and drier combo at Best Buy for $1,100, current Blu-Ray DVDs for $5 at Wal-Mart, a variety of normally $36 brand-name small appliances at Kohl's for $13 each, $60 value hooded peacoats for children for $20 at Sears, Nerf Vortex Nitron toys that normally are $50 selling for $30 at Target, Meijer, and Kmart, and a usually $70 Werner fiber-glass stepladder at Lowe's for $20.
Something retailers and analysts will watch for is how many people come shopping at midnight after Thanksgiving, or on Thanksgiving Day, to snap up the deals.
"I do know one thing -- you're going to have some exhausted employees by the end of the day," Mr. Beemer added.
The midnight start makes crowd control easier than the sometimes frantic rush into the store when the doors open at 6 a.m., said John Lemire, manager of the Best Buy store on Monroe Street in Toledo.
But some stores disagree.
JC Penney remains comfortable with its 4 a.m. opening time, said Priscilla Sherrod, manager of the Franklin Park store. Cabela's in Dundee, Mich., will be closed on Thanksgiving and plans a 5 a.m. opening on Friday.
Similarly, The Andersons general stores will stick with their 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours on Black Friday. The stores will be closed on Thanksgiving.
"You feel pressure [to change], but our read on it is we'll have a pretty good day without chasing competitors like crazy," said Dan Anderson, president of the Maumee agribusiness' retail group.
Contact Jon Chavez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6128.