Stores are opening earlier than ever this year for Black Friday shopping, as retailers try to lure customers amid economic uncertainty and stay ahead of the competition.
For shoppers, it means the chance to get steeply discounted items, such as a 32-inch LCD television for $147 at Target or a Nook Simple Touch e-reader for $39.99 at Sears, without getting up at 3 a.m.
For thousands of retail workers around Charlotte, that means more hours of work and less time with families on Thanksgiving.
Target will kick off its door-buster deals at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, three hours earlier than last year, when the stores opened at midnight itself a record early opening at the time.
Wal-Mart will offer its first deals at 8 p.m., with later waves of sales on different items into the next day. The retailer started sales at 10 p.m. last year.
Sears also is opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving eight hours earlier than its 4 a.m. opening last year. Toys R Us is opening at 9 p.m., an hour earlier than last year.
Consumers want more hours
Last year, when many stores broke new ground with midnight or 10 p.m. Thanksgiving openings that now look late by comparison, online petitions started by employees drew hundreds of thousands of signatures. Similar petitions already have cropped up again this year.
The most popular petition Tuesday on Change.org was from a Target employee in California asking the retailer to save Thanksgiving for retail workers families by pushing back store hours. The petition had gathered more than 191,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
Every year it gets worse and worse. These big companies are trying to one-up each other, said a Charlotte-area Target employee who requested anonymity to speak freely about his employer. The man, whos worked in retail for 15 years, said his family used to eat a large Thanksgiving lunch, hang out, see a movie, then have dinner together.
This year, hell have lunch and then head straight to bed to grab a few hours of sleep before he has to be at work at 7 p.m.
Retailers say they are responding to competitive pressure and consumer demand. Customers have a limited amount of money to spend, and stores that dont open earlier risk losing out to their competitors.
The longer youre open, the more business youre going to do, said Britt Beemer, a retail analyst and head of Summerville, S.C.-based Americas Research Group. He said customers have voted with their wallets and made it worthwhile for retailers to open earlier every year.
The only backlash is from employees, Beemer said.
Online shopping also has pushed firmly into Thanksgiving, with many retailers adding online deals during the day.
The money at stake for retailers is enormous. Black Friday sales totaled $11.4 billion last year, according to the firm ShopperTrak. This year, ShopperTrak is predicting that Black Friday will be the single busiest day and see the highest revenue for retailers over the holiday season.
And there is demand for the Thanksgiving shopping hours: According to a survey by PriceGrabber.com released Tuesday, 9 percent of consumers plan to start shopping Thanksgiving night, and 24 percent more plan to start as early as midnight.
Sears Holding Corp. said the decision to push deals even earlier into Thanksgiving was made based in part on feedback from customers in its Shop Your Way loyalty program, who sought more flexible Black Friday in-store shopping times.
To minimize the impact on families, Sears said it is staffing stores with those who volunteered for Thanksgiving hours.
Target also said its decision was made based on customer feedback.
We heard from our guests that they look forward to kicking off their holiday shopping with deal-hunting on Thanksgiving night, said executive vice president of merchandising Kathee Tesija, in a statement.
With unemployment still high Mecklenburgs was 9.1 percent in September some workers are grateful for the extra hours, which usually pay overtime rates.
Thanksgiving not guaranteed
Some retailers are sticking with the times they opened last year. Best Buy will open its stores at midnight, the same as 2011. Last year, the companys then-CEO said he felt terrible about pushing the opening that early, because of how it would affect store employees, but felt he had no choice.
Workers dont have any special right to a day off on Thanksgiving beyond what their employer agrees to, said Clermont Fraser, with the North Carolina Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group. And with North Carolina an at-will employment state, employees who refuse a scheduled shift can face termination.
And if consumers or employees think retailers have pushed the early openings as far as they can, Beemer has bad news: He doesnt see any end in sight, and he expects the trend will continue creeping ever further into Thanksgiving.