The nation's largest retailers will again cut their Thanksgiving meals short and open at even earlier hours Thursday night and Friday morning to feed consumers' demand for door-busting prices.
So-called "Black Friday creep" -- stores opening earlier and earlier -- has some consumers salivating and others wondering where it will end.
"The conflict of being open on Thanksgiving night has really been driven by consumer demand," said Kathy Grannis, senior director of media relations at the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C. "Last year, a quarter of holiday shoppers were at stores by midnight. That means they have already taken advantage of 10 p.m. openings last year and gotten an early start for midnight openings.
"People want shop on Thanksgiving, and this provides an opportunity to get a large chunk of shopping done and still get to sleep in on Friday. We're hearing that people would much rather shop at night than set the alarm and get up early on Friday."
Walmart stores will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day after unlocking their doors at 10 p.m. last Thanksgiving. Sears will also open at 8 p.m. Thursday and Target will be opening its doors at 9 p.m.
Despite recent grassroots protest by some big-box retail employees over having to work on the holiday, research from the world's largest retail trade association finds that the Thanksgiving Day hours are what consumers want.
After opening a 9 p.m. Thursday, Target stores plan to release an additional round of door-busters beginning at 4 a.m. Friday. All Target REDcard holders will have early access to Black Friday items on the retailer's website.
"We heard from our guests that they look forward to kicking off their holiday shopping with deal-hunting on Thanksgiving night," said Target Executive Vice President of Merchandising Kathee Tesija in a released statement. "Opening at 9 p.m. gives Target's Black Friday guests a more convenient way to create an after-dinner shopping event that the entire family can enjoy. Guests can shop with confidence throughout the entire holiday weekend knowing that Target offers incredible value on items for decorating, entertaining and gift giving."
The National Retail Federation has forecast holiday sales to increase by more than 4 percent this year over last year to $586.1 billion. One contributing factor is that Thanksgiving falls earlier this year than last year and will give retailers an extra weekend of sales.
"This year it means shoppers have an extra weekend," Grannis said. "That certainly means retailers will be very aggressive to get procrastinators interested in the last-minute sales."
The federation has also reported that this year online sales are expected to jump by 12 percent over 2011. Grannis said digital holiday shopping season has never been more prominent. More consumers are using their cell phones and computer tablets to find merchandise as they shop.
More retailers also are posting Quick Response, or "QR" codes, a matrix barcode, to help shoppers find and purchase what they want online before they find in on store shelves.
"There is no question that online is very much a bright spot for retailers this holiday season," Grannis said. "Also what we're seeing is retailers are specifically looking at ways to integrate the retailer shopper digital shipping experience. It's so much more than just promoting online sales. It's encouraging using mobile devices in stores to purchase items in their stores."
Many big-box stores will discount prices on electronics and toys for the annual day after, or now the day of, Thanksgiving sales blitz. Grannis said Amazon is promoting a "hot toys" list and Toys R Us has combined the consumer demand for electronics and toys by marketing a computer tablet for children called the Tabeo. She also said Walmart has been heavily promoting its toy sales since early October.
"There is no question that electronics will be a very popular item for gift givers this year with the popularity of smart phones and tablets," she said.
For the second consecutive year, Macy's stores will open at midnight Friday. This year, Macy's customers will receive a free pair of high-definition headphones with any purchase of $75 or more on men's or women's fragrances. Macy's will in turn donate $2 to Make-A-Wish, up to $100,000.
"Black Friday is a day dedicated to finding the best deals," said Macy's Chief Stores Officer Peter Sachse in a statement. "For the first time last year, Macy's stores nationwide opened at midnight and our customers loved getting a head start on their holiday shopping. Based on their enthusiastic response, we plan to repeat it again this year.
"We've also created a new tool to help customers plan their shopping strategy with an enhancement to Macy's mobile app that will identify and locate specials throughout each store on Black Friday," he said.
At Walmart, shoppers who are in line for special Black Friday deals are guaranteed to get that sale item. Spokeswoman Veronica Marshall said that this year Walmart stores are ensuring items like the Apple iPad2 are available during a special one-hour event on Thanksgiving night.
Customers who are inside the store and in the queue line between 10-11 p.m. for the iPad2 for $399 are guaranteed to get it at the discount price, plus a $75 Walmart gift card. Those who are also in line in the store by this time for an Emerson 32-inch LCD TV for $148 and in line for the LG Blu-ray Player for $38 are guaranteed to get these items at the sales prices.
"If they are in store and in line for one of the three items between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., they are guaranteed that item," Marshall said. "If there are 100 or 1,000 people in line, they are guaranteed that item."
Marshall said this new feature helps eliminate frustrations customers might have had if they get to the store for a discounted item, only to find out it was available in limited quantities or sold out.
"We're taking the frustration away from customers by guaranteeing them that they will have one of the top three most purchased items under the Christmas tree this year," she said.
Maryville resident Joni House said she is almost finished and is looking forward to the day-after-Thanksgiving sales.
"Oh yes, definitely," said House. "I've gotten quite a few good deals."
Gerri Phillips, of Belleville, said she plans to take advantage of Black Friday sales to buy for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
"The older kids want electronics, the small kids want toys, and the oldest ones want money," Phillips said.
But her sister-in-law, Dee Morisson, of Breese, said she won't be shopping on Thursday or Friday.
"It's too crowded," she said. "I think that there are just as good bargains now."
But House disagreed. "I just like the excitement of it," she said.
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.