Feeling pressure to match the day-long competitive advantage enjoyed by Walmart, Kmart, and Meijer, who remain open on much of Thanksgiving, two major retailers have opted this year to open their doors on Thursday evening in hopes of nabbing a bigger share of Black Friday sales.
Sears and Target will join the Thanksgiving Day shopping fray by opening at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively, on Turkey Day to offer consumers their list of “doorbuster” sale items. Last year, the two retailers opened at midnight.
Toys R Us will open at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year.
Experts say those moves may force even more shoppers to choose between a traditional evening of turkey and football, or kicking Uncle Ted and Aunt Edna out the door early in order to get out and snag a bargain-priced flat-screen TV or microwave oven.
And “Thanksgiving creep” — the continual rollback of store sale starting times — will start even before Thursday this year.
Kohl’s is beginning its Black Friday sales at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday on its Web site.
Sears’ sales start even earlier: customers who sign up online for Sears’ free “Shop Your Way” loyalty program will be able to purchase the retailer’s Black Friday “doorbuster” sale items today and Monday on the Sears Web site.
Meanwhile, other major retailers are continuing the Thanksgiving night frenzy with midnight openings. Macy’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and Elder-Beerman again plan to open at 12:01 a.m. Friday. At Westfield Franklin Park, the area’s premier mall, more than half the mall’s 100-plus retailers plan to open at midnight with the mall opening its doors at 11 p.m. Thursday.
“There’s no question that Black Friday is changing, but it’s not dead,” said Kathy Grannis, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation. “It’s just that Thanksgiving night shopping is becoming more relevant for shoppers. It’s a great way to get all of the deals that retailers are offering, and even sleep in on Friday morning.”
And if consumers don’t want to face crowds at their favorite stores on Thursday and Friday, many more retailers are expanding their online shopping this year. Also, for those who do go out to shop from Thursday through Sunday, more mobile phone technology is being used to make the shopping experience richer and easier.
“I think this holiday season, maybe for the first time, the integrated shopping experience is very visible,” Ms. Grannis said. “Kohl’s will have QR codes on shelves to let customers purchase select items on their mobile phones and have them shipped directly to their house,” she said.
“Macy’s will have special deals available only on their mobile app. You have to have their app to see their offers,” Ms. Grannis said. “With Toys R Us you can order something online and pay at your store.”
Sears has outfitted its store sales force with electronic tablets that can ring up sales on the spot so that a customer could purchase an item anywhere in the store and not have to wait in a check-out line. A receipt can be printed out for the item or sent to the customer e-mail.
“The concept of seamless convenience is really prevalent this season,” Ms. Grannis said.
The retail federation is estimating that up to 147 million people — down slightly from 152 million last year — will shop this weekend on Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), so-called because historically it marked the start of the holiday shopping season when a retailer’s annual sales would move from negative fiscal position and into the black.
Unknown, however, is how many will give up their traditional Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends to head to the stores on Thursday.
Retail consultant Jeff Green, of Jeff Green Partners, said for some, shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is anathema, but a certain type of shoppers loves the idea of bargain hunting and will shop this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
“The people who hate it will never shop on Black Friday no matter what the deal is. But what you’ll find this year is that by Thanksgiving evening and very early the next morning, with everybody shopping earlier for those deep discount bargains, those items will be gone by 2 or 3 in the morning,” Mr. Green said.
“Last year was the first year they really started doing this and what I noticed is on Thanksgiving evening and the wee hours of Black Friday, things were really, really busy. But from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., stores were not that busy,” he said.
Michael Brim, operator of the Web site Black Friday Ads (www.bfads.net), which since 2003 has been publishing retailers’ Black Friday advertisements in the weeks and months prior to Thanksgiving, said he thinks this year’s trend of more major retailers opening on Thursday evening could be a watershed moment for stores and customers.
A push-back against Thanksgiving day store hours has gained steam, with many consumers agreeing that too many retail employees now are being forced to give up one of their few holidays. A Target employee this year began an online petition asking the retailer to cancel its 9 p.m. Thursday opening, and thus far the petition has 222,563 signers.
Travis Smith, the chief executive officer of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, issued a statement Friday saying the company’s stores will not be open on Thanksgiving specifically to give its employees their expected day off.
“We respect our team members and believe this is a day they should spend with their families,” Mr. Smith stated.
Mr. Brim said the controversy over Thanksgiving Day hours isn’t just about inconveniencing store employees. Consumers are starting to feel inconvenienced.
“Now people have to choose if they want to go out and get a deal or enjoy a typical Thanksgiving holiday,” Mr. Brim said.
“It kind of makes you wonder about next year. We’re at 8 p.m. this year and what will they do next year, 6 p.m.? At 6 p.m. that is conflicting with dinner and that’s kind of crazy,” Mr. Brim said. “That’s why, I think, a lot of stores are starting Thanksgiving sales online. … That may be where other stores go next year.”
Locally-owned Toledo-area stores do not appear to be follow the national chains into Thursday night openings.
The Appliance Center, the Maumee electronics, appliance, and furniture retailer, for example, will stick with its 6 a.m. Friday opening.
“We have loyal customers and they expect us to open when we normally do," sales manager John Nickoloff said. "We’ll have lots of specials and we expect several hundred people to be lined up before we open."
At the Learning Express toy store, which has stores in Sylvania and Maumee, owners Molly and Gary Fitzpatrick said they too will stick with their traditional Friday openings. The Maumee store in the Shops at Fallen Timbers opens at 6 a.m. when the rest of the mall opens, while the stand-alone Sylvania store opens at 8 a.m.
“We’re going to let our customers and employees enjoy their Thanksgiving,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
This year every retailer has a lot of good deals designed to encourage shoppers to make purchases, according to Black Friday Ads.net, but there are few outstanding bargains.
This year, Walmart, Best Buy, and Sam’s Club have the price cuts that stand out the most among the national retailers, Mr. Brim said.
Walmart is selling an Xbox 360 4 gigabyte gaming system with a Skylanders game for $150. “It’s a pretty good deal,” Mr. Brim said.
Best Buy, he said, is offering a Toshiba 40-inch LCD 1080p television for just $180 and a Lenovo laptop computer for $190, while Sam’s Club is selling a Dyson DC33 vacuum cleaner for $250. “We checked and refurbished Dysons cost $229, but Sam’s is selling brand new ones for $250,” Mr. Brim said.
Mr. Green said the lack of eye-popping Black Friday deals and more good deals this year may be because most people already have purchased must-have technologies. There has not been a new ground-breaking item for a few years and smart phones and tablets have taken over the need for owning several devices — portable music players, laptops, video players, and cameras.
“Consumer electronics are not going to be as strong this year as they have been in the past because consumer electronics have become a commodity,” Mr. Green said. “By that, I mean you won’t wait for iPhone as a gift. You’re going to get it when it comes out because you need it."
Mr. Green suggested that apparel retailers may benefit.
“Last winter was so warm a lot of people didn’t buy winter apparel, but if it’s a normal season, that is, snow and cold, I think you will see a lot of apparel sold and I would not be surprised if there’s pent up demand for winter apparel with people buying clothing just for themselves, rather than as gifts,” Mr. Green said.
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