The calendar gave retailers the longest possible shopping season this year — 32 days, including five weekends — and many are pushing the limits by starting Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving.
Nearly all major national retailers bumped the time of their holiday store openings up by an hour or more, getting the frenzy known as the official beginning of the holiday shopping season off to its earliest start ever.
Toys R Us opens at 8 p.m. this year, an hour earlier than in 2011. Walmart, which is typically open 24 hours, has door busters as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Target stores welcome shoppers at 9 p.m., three hours earlier than last year.
Retailers say sales on turkey day are what shoppers want.
“The response last year was overwhelmingly positive. We had thousands of customers waiting in line across the country,” said Jennifer Albano, a spokeswoman for Toys R Us.
Yet not everyone is happy about the changes. More than 200,000 people (including dozens of shareholders) have signed an online petition filed by a Target worker on www.change.org, asking retailers to allow employees to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. Some shoppers, too, prefer to keep Black Friday on Friday.
Travis and Rachel Benham, of Mustang, are die-hard Black Friday shoppers who complete nearly all of their holiday shopping the weekend after Thanksgiving each year. They've been known to visit several store openings in one night. But this year, the couple says they won't sacrifice family time to shop. But they won't boycott Black Friday either.
Instead, they're going to go shopping in the wee morning hours Friday like they typically have done, and hope that the stores have restocked merchandise bought up by the first wave of Thursday night shoppers.
“We're not going to rush out to be the first or fifth in line. We'll let those people go,” Travis Benham said.
The trend of shopping Thanksgiving night was most noticeable last year, when nearly a quarter of Black Friday shoppers were at a store by midnight, according to data from the National Retail Federation. In 2010, less than 10 percent of shoppers were at a store at midnight and in 2009, just 3.3 percent of shoppers were.
Not all retailers are following the trend, however. J.C. Penney actually pushed its Black Friday opening two hours later this year, to 6 a.m. after its 4 a.m. opening last year wasn't successful.
Hobby Lobby stores open at 8 a.m., just an hour earlier than normal. A spokeswoman for Hobby Lobby said the store remains closed on Thanksgiving to allow employees to celebrate the holiday with their friends and family.
Even though the holiday shopping season is extra long this year with Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday in November, falling on Nov. 22, retailers had to start promotions that were cut short by the election, said Kathy Grannis, a National Retail Federation spokeswoman.
“National air space was expensive. It was hard to even get a spot,” Grannis explains. “And retailers recognize consumers weren't focused on holiday spending. They wanted to know who their president was first.”
Though it's likely there will be a lull in foot traffic in mid-December, Grannis said retailers will push with aggressive sales that final weekend before Christmas.
“This year, that extra Saturday and Sunday really does mean big business for retailers,” she said.
Albano, the Toys R Us spokeswoman, said the retailer will have deals and discounts every day before Christmas. “Black Friday is the kickoff,” Albano said. “But every day leading up to Christmas is important to us.”