Stores typically open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving that's named Black Friday because that is when they traditionally turn a profit for the year. But Black Friday openings have crept earlier and earlier over the past few years. Now, stores from Target to Toys R Us open their doors as early as Thanksgiving evening.
Target Corp. opened its doors at 9 p.m. on the holiday, three hours earlier than last year. Sears, which didn't open on Thanksgiving last year, opened at 8 p.m. on Thursday through 10 p.m. on Black Friday. Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. And scores of other stores such as Macy's Inc. opened at midnight on Black Friday.
"I ate my turkey dinner and came right here," said Rasheed Ali, a 23-year-old student in New York City who bought a 50-inch Westinghouse TV for $349 and a Singer sewing machine for $50. "Then I'm going home and eating more."
Indeed, retailers were betting that the earlier openings would draw shoppers who prefer to head to stores after their pumpkin pie rather than get up early the next morning. When Macy's flagship Herald Square store in New York opened its doors at midnight, for instance, about 11,000 shoppers showed up. Overall, about 17 per cent of shoppers said earlier this month that they planned to take advantage of Thanksgiving hours, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers.
The earlier hours are an effort by stores to make shopping more convenient for Americans, who still face economic uncertainty. Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites such as Amazon.com, where they can get cheaper prices and buy from the comfort of their home or office cubicle.
That has put pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, which can make up to 40 per cent of their annual revenue during the two-month holiday shopping season, to compete. That's becoming more difficult: the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 per cent this year to $586.1 billion, or about flat with last year's growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 per cent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.
As a result, brick-and-mortar retailers are trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores by making shopping as easy as possible. They tested the earlier hours last year, but this year more stores decided to open their doors on Thanksgiving. In addition to expanding their hours, many also are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.
"Every retailer wants to beat everyone else," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a research firm based in Charleston, S.C. "Shoppers love it."
Hardcore holiday shoppers took advantage of the earlier hours. There were 11 shoppers in a four-tent encampment outside a Best Buy store near Ann Arbor, Mich., in the afternoon on Thanksgiving. The purpose of their wait? A $179 40-inch Toshiba LCD television is worth missing Thanksgiving dinner at home.
Jackie Berg, 26, of Ann Arbor, arrived first with her stepson and a friend Wednesday afternoon, seeking three of the televisions. The deal makes the TVs $240 less than their normal price, so Berg says that she'll save more than $700.
It's her first time camping out for the specials, and she's not sure she will do it again. Relatives will bring her some holiday dinner, but she'll miss eating her dad's stuffing right as he cooks it.
"We'll miss the actual being there with family, but we'll have the rest of the weekend for that," she said.
Carey Maguire, 33, and her sister Caitlyn Maguire, 21, showed up at Target in East Harlem neighbourhood of New York City at 7 p.m. Their goal was to buy several Nooks, which were on sale for $49. But while waiting in line they were also using their iPhone to do some online buying at rival stores.
"If you're going to spend, I want to make it worth it," said Caitlyn Maguire, a college student, who spent a total of $175 on Amazon.com, Best Buy and Radio Shack during her two-hour wait.
While shoppers snagged early deals, some workers were expected to protest the earlier hours. In fact, a New York-based union-backed group of retail workers called Retail Action Project is planning protests in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Thanksgiving in front of several stores, including AnnTaylor, Forever 21 and others that are opening at midnight on Black Friday and earlier.
"It shows that the companies are not valuing their workers. They're looking to their workers to squeeze out more profits," said Carrie Gleason, director of Retail Action Project.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has been one of the biggest targets of protests against holiday hours. Many of the company's stores are open 24 hours, but the company is offering early bird specials that once were reserved for Black Friday at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving instead.
The issue is part of a broader campaign against the company's treatment of workers that's being waged by a union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers. The group is staging demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday.
Mary Pat Tifft, a Wal-Mart employee in Kenosha, Wis., who is a member of OUR Walmart, started an online petition on signon.org that has about 34,000 signatures. "This Thanksgiving, while millions of families plan to spend quality time with their loved ones, Wal-Mart associates have been told we will be stocking shelves and preparing sales starting at 8 p.m.," she wrote on the site.
Shortly after midnight, OUR Walmart said workers walked off their jobs in stores in Dallas, Miami and Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday. But a spokeswoman for the group did not immediately give numbers on how many workers participated.
For their part, retailers say they are giving shoppers what they want. Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the discounter learned from shoppers that they want to start shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner. Then, they want to have time to go to bed before they wake up to head back out to the stores.
Still, Tovar said that Wal-Mart works to accommodate its workers' requests for different working hours. "We spent a lot of time talking to them, trying to figure out when would be the best time for our events," he said.
Kathee Tesija, Target's executive vice-president of merchandising, said Target's 9 p.m. opening struck "a perfect balance" for its customers. When asked whether it's faced any criticism from Target employees, she noted that the chain also works with workers to accommodate their needs. But, ultimately the company serves the customer.
"We thought long and hard about when the right opening time would be," she said, adding that Target "wants to make sure we are competitive."
Krisher contributed to this report from Toledo, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Mich.