Click here for a roundup of area retailer Black Friday plans.
If you plan on shopping for this year's “Black Friday” deals, you may want to get your Thanksgiving dinner in a to-go box.
Walmart, Toys R Us, Target and other major retailers are opening their stores at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, allowing consumers to snare those Black Friday bargains while the gravy is still warm.
While Nebraska-based retailers such as Gordmans and Nebraska Furniture Mart are sticking with early Friday openings, other stores, including Kmart, Dollar General and Old Navy, plan to be open much of the day Thursday. Shopko is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and will reopen to customers at 9 p.m. with additional deals.
“They might as well start serving turkey dinner in the stores,” said Michael Breazeale, assistant marketing professor at University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“It's called Black Friday creep,” said Breazeale, referring to the growing trend that has retailers opening Thursday evening instead of waiting until Friday.
This year, it's all about early. Stores are opening earlier. Many “Black Friday” deals have already been unveiled or soon will be, either because they've been leaked or the retailers have posted them. And even the calendar is cooperating: Thanksgiving falls two days earlier than last year, providing an additional 48 hours to boost a retailer's bottom line or provide a hedge against bad weather.
But the trend that has Thanksgiving becoming the new Black Friday doesn't sit well with everyone.
“I think it's a bad idea,” said Kristy Campbell, 21, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who was shopping for groceries Wednesday at the Walmart store near 72nd and Pacific Streets. “The holiday is for taking time with your family . ... It's meant to be a day of being grateful and thankful, and now it's, like, let's go out and buy more stuff.”
But retail experts point out that thousands showed up last year for Thursday night openings.
“Retail is all about responding to customers' needs and wants. If they opened the store early and nobody arrived, then they'd stop opening early, but that hasn't been the case,” said Casey Chroust, executive vice president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, based in Arlington, Va.
“Shoppers have only so much to spend,” Chroust said. And the earlier a retailer lures people into its store, the chances that it will snare a larger portion of that shopper's holiday budget go up.
“If a retailer gets to them before other retailers do, that's a win,” Chroust said.
Many stores count on the holiday season to keep their doors open all year. For some, the holiday shopping season can account for 20 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales.
There's another reason stores are unlocking their doors on Thanksgiving, said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a Charleston, S.C., consumer research firm.
In recent years retailers had noticed that teenagers make up a large portion of the people standing in Friday's early morning lines. The likely explanation is that parents are sleeping in and sending “Junior” out before the dawn to buy that “one big item such as a big-screen television set or a special tablet,” Beemer said.
The problem there, as retailers surmised when they tallied their receipts, was those same teens didn't have the authority to buy other items. Black Friday specials — doorbusters — are intended to lure shoppers into the store in the hope they'll make additional purchases.
Opening Thursday evening is one way to coax heads-of-households and parents, the folks who control the purse strings, to pick up the doorbuster and any other bargains that strike their fancy without cutting into their sleep, Beemer said.
Some click-and-mortar retailers, or those that operate brick-and-mortar stores and websites, such as J.C. Penney and Kohl's, have stuck with Friday openings but expanded their online deals this year and are offering Black Friday bargains to online shoppers who hit the keys Thanksgiving Day or even earlier.
Home Depot is advertising “Black Friday” pricing starting now. And Sears, which opens at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, is allowing its “Shop Your Way” loyalty customers to shop online for select Thanksgiving and Black Friday specials from 5 p.m. Sunday through Monday — days before Black Friday.
That said, not all retailers are onboard with Thanksgiving Day hours. Plenty of retail chains plan to wait until Friday to open, including Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, RadioShack, Office Max and the Nebraska Furniture Mart.
The Buckle, based in Kearney, Neb., is opening one store in Kansas City, Kan., at 10 p.m. Thursday, but its remaining 440 stores are opening at various times on Black Friday, depending on the mall, said Lori Cody, the chain's marketing director.
Omaha-based Gordmans and Sidney, Neb.-based Cabela's are waiting until 5 a.m. Friday to swing open their doors.
And Nebraska Furniture Mart will open its stores at 6 a.m. Friday. Rolling back its hours or chasing the strategies of other retailers “is not a priority for us,” said Bob Batt, the company's executive vice president. “We believe employees should be with their families on Thanksgiving.”
Similarly, like a parent who doesn't want his or her kid snooping under the Christmas tree, the Nebraska Furniture Mart is taking pains to keep its circular of deals under wraps. “We take big steps to make sure it comes out on Thursday,” Batt said.
Promotions being leaked early can be a problem for retailers if it keeps someone from buying a current item, Chroust said.
“On the flip side, it can help build buzz,” he said. In addition, the early debut of unauthorized Black Friday fliers is one way for retailers to find out, via Internet and social media sites, whether their selections of goods and prices are finding favor with consumers and, if not, adjust.
Michelle Massey, 44, said she has perused the ads, created a game plan and plans to head out of the house late Thanksiving Day to go shopping. “I'll be out there at midnight,” said Massey, of Omaha, who was shopping at Target's Crossroads Mall location Wednesday.
The owner of several gift stores, Massey said she understands retailers who will be open on Thanksgiving. “In this down economy, retailers are fighting for every last dollar.”
While Black Friday as an actual retail sales day is being flexed and stretched like a hunk of Silly Putty, extending its reach through Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, Black Friday's cultural component is going strong, said Breazeale, the marketing professor.
“I'm struck by the images of whole families bundling up on Black Friday morning to head out in search of the perfect gift or gifts,” Breazeale said. “That's not just about shopping — it's also about the tradition and social aspect ... folks will continue to look forward to Black Friday along with the quickie breakfast grabbed at a drive-through, the pre-dawn shivers waiting in line and the thrill of being one of the few to grab up this year's prize trophy.”
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Photos: 2011 Black Friday