NEW YORK — Last Thanksgiving Day, Kimberly Mudge Via’s mother, sister, and nieces left in the middle of their meals for the mall.
Now Ms. Via, 28, says she will never host Thanksgiving dinner for her relatives again.
“They barely finished,” says the resident of Boone, N.C. “They thanked me and left their plates on the counter.”
That scene could become more common in homes across the country. Black Friday shopping, the annual rite of passage on the day after Thanksgiving, continues to creep further into the holiday as more stores open their doors a day early.
It’s a break with tradition. Black Friday, which usually is the year’s biggest shopping day, for a decade has been considered the official start to the busy holiday buying season. Stores open in the wee hours of the morning with special deals called doorbusters and stay open late into the evening. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving and Christmas remained the only two days of the year that stores were closed.
Now Thanksgiving is slowly becoming just another shopping day. Over the past few years, major retailers, including Target and Toys R Us, have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night to one-up each other and compete for holiday dollars. Some initially resisted, saying that they wanted their employees to be able to spend time with their families.
This year more than a dozen major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving, including a handful such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney, and Staples that are doing it for the first time. The Gap, which operates Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic stores, is opening half of its stores on Thanksgiving morning.
Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at the Wake Forest University school of business in Winston-Salem, N.C., expects that it is just a matter of time — he estimates five years — before most chains open all day on Thanksgiving. As for Christmas, he says that day is still sacred among shoppers.
“The floodgates have opened,” Mr. Beahm says. “People will turn Thanksgiving Day shopping into a tradition as they historically have on the day after Thanksgiving ... And stores don’t want to be left behind.”
Indeed, retailers say they are just doing what shoppers want. And they know that opening earlier gives them a chance to be the first to grab shoppers’ dollars. That is an important opportunity for chains, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year.
But so far it’s unclear whether opening on Thanksgiving boosts retailers’ top line or simply pushes forward sales from Friday. Last year it was the latter: Sales on Thanksgiving 2012 were $810 million, an increase of 55 percent from 2011, as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak.
Business dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, which was still the biggest shopping day last year. That day accounted for about 4.3 percent of holiday sales last year.
“Customers clearly showed that they wanted to be out shopping much earlier on Thanksgiving,” said Amy von Walter, a spokesman for Best Buy. The chain moved up its opening this year to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving from midnight on Black Friday in 2012. “Our plan this holiday is a direct result of that feedback,” she said.
It’s a divisive issue among shoppers, as some believe that the holiday should remain sacred and that store employees should off work.