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Early Black Friday openings eat into Thanksgiving Day

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Will you shop on Thanksgiving Day?

Retailers facing pressure from tepid holiday sales forecasts and fierce competition for shoppers’ dollars are planning to open earlier than ever for Black Friday, with even more opening on Thanksgiving Day itself.

J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Kohl’s have all announced plans to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving for the first time this year. They’ll be joining Target, Walmart, Kmart, Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us, which all opened at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day last year to start their Black Friday sales.

“They’re fearful if they don’t get to the wallet early they’ll lose out,” said Bill Martin, founder of Chicago-based retail tracking company ShopperTrak. “I think it’s unfortunate. It extends the holiday so far in advance we forget what the holiday’s about to begin with.”

The earlier openings mean retail workers in Charlotte and across the country will be working Thanksgiving evening. Retailers say they’re just giving consumers what they want.

“Shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend has become a much-anticipated tradition enjoyed with friends and family,” said Michelle Gass, Kohl’s chief customer officer, in a statement. “As many customers are eager to get a jump start on their shopping, we are opening our stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day as a convenience to our customers who want to make Kohl’s their first stop.”

Experts say the pressure of fierce competition is a major driver behind the early opening times. Stores like J.C. Penney that held out for a traditional 6 a.m. Friday opening last year missed out to those that opened earlier. J.C. Penney suffered a particularly disastrous holiday season, losing $552 million as the company struggled with an ill-fated new strategy under former CEO Ron Johnson.

“Retailers are not going to leave an opportunity to get more business,” said Britt Beemer, CEO of Charleston-based retail consulting firm America’s Research Group. “If you have half of America shopping, you can’t miss that.”

Another factor in the rush to open earlier: Glum holiday sales forecasts. The National Retail Federation said last week that consumers expect to spend an average of about $738. That’s 2 percent less than last year’s per-person spending.

“Though the foundation for solid holiday season growth exists, Americans are questioning the stability of our economy, our government and their own finances,” said retail federation chief executive Matthew Shay, in a statement.

The federation predicts that overall, holiday sales will increase a modest 3.9 percent, to $602 billion.

ShopperTrak is predicting sales will rise 2.4 percent compared to the same time period last year. That’s less than last year’s 3 percent increase. And ShopperTrak expects foot traffic in stores to drop 1.4 percent, as people visit fewer stores and watch their spending carefully.

Timing is also driving some of the shift. Because Thanksgiving falls on a later date this year, the official holiday shopping season is only 26 days, the shortest possible time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

That has led some retailers to kick off their holiday deals earlier, Martin said. Kmart announced it was beginning layaway sales 105 days before Christmas, for example.

“It’s just amazing,” Martin said.

The earlier sales and promotions over the past decade have shifted holiday spending earlier, into November, while cannibalizing later sales, Martin said.

“The increased revenue we’re seeing in November is coming at the expense of December,” he said.

The split of spending between November and December is approaching 50-50, Martin said, while in 2000 it was closer to 40-60.

Although recent seasons have seen a backlash over Thanksgiving Day openings – including online petitions that gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures – nothing has stopped the Black Friday creep. A few small online petitions had started by Tuesday, such as “Thanksgiving Comes First,” on Facebook, which had 190 “likes” as of Tuesday.

Beemer said he hopes 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day will hold as the new line for retailers not to cross.

“I hope it doesn’t get any earlier than 8 p.m.,” he said. “I think everyone’s going to try to draw a line.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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