NEW YORK (AP) — The nation's shoppers put the turkey down to take advantage of an early start to the holiday shopping season.
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 percent 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 percent 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 percent 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 percent 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.