Countdown to Black Friday

After pulling an all-nighter during Black Friday last year, Lori Green of Affton, Mo., planned on taking a nap after Thanksgiving dinner this year before hitting the stores. But retailers might have put a wrinkle in her plan.

Stores are opening even earlier than last year, as Black Friday creeps even deeper into Thanksgiving Day.

Last year, many stores opened at midnight — earlier than ever — and a few even opened at 9 p.m. on Thursday. This year, some big chains are taking the sales event to a new level, opening as early as 8 p.m., while others are sticking to midnight.

"It would be nice if they all opened at 8, but I don't see that happening," Green said.

Indeed, many consumers are figuring out how to readjust their Black Friday strategies for one of the biggest shopping events of the year in light of the earlier openings.

Walmart, Sears and Toys R Us are among the earliest wave of store openings, at 8 p.m., followed by Target at 9 p.m. Then at the stroke of midnight, a host of other stores, such as Macy's, Kohl's, Best Buy and many shopping malls, will swing open their doors.

On top of that, a small group of retailers, including Kmart and many Old Navy stores, will be open during the day on Thanksgiving.

"Most consumers don't have bottomless pockets, so many set a budget for holiday spending," said Alden Lury, a retail strategist with Kurt Salmon. "Retailers are competing for a share of that spend."

While some critics are once again not happy about Black Friday cutting short a family-focused holiday — both for shoppers and those who have to work — retailers say they are responding to consumer demand.

There was a lot of talk about a potential backlash to last year's Thursday night and midnight openings, but there were nonetheless long lines of shoppers outside many stores.

Target, which is opening three hours earlier than last year, carefully evaluated its opening time with its guests and employees in mind, Sarah Van Nevel, a company spokeswoman, said in an email.

"Our opening time this year reflects the feedback we have heard from our guests — many prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning," she said.

A decade ago, Black Friday actually started on Friday, with 6 a.m. being the standard opening time. But it's been inching back ever since, spurred in part by competition from online retailers.

"The Web leapfrogged over all that," said Ellen Davis, a vice president with the National Retail Federation. "They could say, 'Hey, we are open on Thanksgiving.' So (bricks-and-mortar) retailers felt they needed to do something to be relevant."

The evening openings seem to appeal especially to younger adults, who are notorious for not being early-morning risers.

"Young adults do not want to go to bed and set their alarm clocks for 3 or 4 a.m.," Davis said. "They'd rather enjoy Thanksgiving with their families and then — much like you would catch a movie afterward — go shopping."

As a result, she said, Black Friday shoppers appear to be skewing younger than ever. Thirty-seven percent of Black Friday shoppers between the ages of 18 and 34 hit the midnight sales last year, compared with a quarter of all shoppers among all age groups, according to NRF data.

"If you can bring in a customer when they're 20 years old, you might have them for another 30 to 40 years," Davis said.

Like last year, all of Toys R Us' doorbuster deals will be offered online — while supplies last — at the same time as the doors to its stores swing open at 8 p.m., said Adrienne O'Hara, a company spokeswoman.

The only advantage to coming to the store in person is the first 200 customers will receive a goodie bag, with stocking stuffers and other items. But O'Hara said many customers nonetheless prefer to brave the crowds and shop in person.

"We still see consumers who love, love to come out to the store on Black Friday," she said. "They love the thrill of seeing what's on the shelf. For so many families, it's a ritual."

Some retailers will roll out a couple of different doorbuster deals throughout the night and into the morning. Walmart will start its first round at 8 p.m. with discounts on certain toys and home goods, followed by electronics at 10 p.m., and another round at 5 a.m. Friday.

This year, Walmart also promises that every customer in line between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. is guaranteed a chance to buy three popular items — Apple's iPad 2, a 32-inch Emerson LCD TV, and an LG Blu-ray player. If any of those items sell out, customers will be given a guarantee card and can pick up the item later, after it has been shipped to the store.

"Maybe I'm getting too old for this, but I don't think I would go to the midnight openings," said Sara Bryant, 61, of St. Louis. "I'd be more inclined to go to the 8 p.m. ones."

She usually shops on the morning of Black Friday with her sister. She enjoys the tradition, which usually includes them going to breakfast after they're done shopping.

"Shopping is fun," she said. "But there's never anything I want bad enough to stand in line for it."

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