Holiday shoppers are off and buying in stores and online.
In some cases, they already are waiting in lines -- days ahead of time -- to snag bargains at those stores opening Thanksgiving and others in the wee hours of Black Friday.
One such shopper, Tony Avitar, a Black Friday fanatic, has made an annual tradition of camping outside. The 49-year-old Akron man set up his tent Thursday night to ensure he would be the first one in line to get inside when the Best Buy off Howe Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls opens at midnight Thanksgiving night.
Retailers see relatively rosy forecasts for holiday spending and hope to get the biggest piece of the holiday spending that they can, said Paul Albanese, marketing professor at Kent State University, who focuses on consumer behavior.
The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to increase 4.1 percent from last year. That's a lower rise than last year but above the 10-year average increase. The group said 53 percent of consumers already have begun their holiday shopping.
Shoppers want the earlier hours, Albanese said. "Retailers are simply responding to the demand."
"Black Friday is a big day, and if they can make it an even bigger day by opening earlier and offering even bigger bargains, they can get a bigger piece of the pie," Albanese said. "They're trying to one-up the competition."
Deep discounts on select items -- so-called "door busters" -- will attract customers, and retailers are hoping shoppers pick up other items in the store while they're there.
For retailers, it's a game of one-upsmanship, said Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at NPD Inc., a market research firm in New York.
Beat the competition
"Retailers are trying to crush the competition, whether it be other stores, beating them to the punch to get the early consumer dollar, or whether to compete with online [shopping sites] that would traditionally have Thanksgiving all to themselves," Cohen said. "It's Christmas crush."
For some retailers, opening on Thanksgiving is nothing new.
Those holiday stores include the Discount Drug Mart Inc. chain, which is based in Medina. The company's 80-plus-year owner, Parviz Boodjeh, a pharmacist, has been known to stop in at one or more stores and offer greetings.
Kmart, which has opened on Thanksgiving for 21 years, is expanding its hours this year to run through Black Friday.
The retailer is trying to appeal to younger shoppers who want to shop later.
"It's kind of a bonding experience for them," she said. "Groups of friends will go out together."
While retail giant Walmart is opening at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, archrival Target is opening stores at 9 p.m., three hours earlier than last year. Target says this is what its customers want.
Customer feedback shows that "many prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning," spokeswoman Molly Snyder said.
Target's move has prompted online petitions against the earlier Thanksgiving hours.
Acme Fresh Markets will be closed on Thanksgiving, as always.
Acme Executive Vice President Jim Trout said that last year he asked the Akron chain's Facebook fans what they thought about Acme being closed on the day.
"It just blew up, he said. "Every one of the fans who wrote back to us -- and it was over 100 -- said absolutely it was the right thing to do. It validated in my mind to close that day."
Some retailers are offering perks to their earliest customers.
At Lodi Station Outlets, the first 150 people at 10 p.m. at the food court Thanksgiving night will receive a $15 gift card. The outlets open again at 7 a.m. Friday and are giving the first 350 people at 7 a.m. a free $15 gift card.
At Summit Mall, the first 250 people to register their email address at guest services will receive a "swag bag" full of goodies such as food samples, a sample of Diet Coke, water and retailer coupons, said Kate Miller, mall marketing manager.
There will also be a free "rejuvenation station" with free muffins, water, candy and coffee starting at midnight for Black Friday shoppers. Some food-court vendors at the mall will also be open at midnight.
Online shopping is expected to continue to grow.
Shop.org, part of the National Retail Federation, expects 2012 online sales in November and December to hit $92 billion to $96 billion. That's up 12 percent from a year ago. (Total holiday spending in 2011 hit $563 billion, according to the NRF.)
The organization said that last year people spent an estimated $1.25 billion on "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving. (Shop.org said it coined the term Cyber Monday in 2005.)
Online retailer Amazon has brought back its "Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week" promotions. It also just started offering a one-month free trial of its Amazon Prime service that costs $79 a year. Amazon Prime offers unlimited free two-day delivery on purchases and also competes with services such as Netflix by providing free access to tens of thousands of instant streaming movies and television shows.
C/NET, which reviews and rates all sorts of gadgets, gizmos and software in addition to covering technology-related news, has an online retail site, complete with a holiday gift guide.
Online news and sales sites are filling email inboxes with holiday sales promotions.
Big-box retailers also have been emailing Black Friday promotions, putting holiday advertising on their own websites and providing the promotional information to discount retail online sites such as dealnews.com.
Smart phones and tablets feature prominently in retailer plans to get you to spend money with them. Device apps have been created, tweaked and upgraded.
Walmart's upgraded smart phone app, for instance, will show you where items you want are located in a particular store.
Dealnews.com said the Walmart app will recognize when a shopper enters a particular store and display an interactive map. The app is supposed to be updated with Black Friday information on Nov. 19, Dealnews says.
Macy's Apple iPhone-only app has been updated to offer in-store Black Friday specials, including telling you where sale items can be found.
The website Appolicious lists and reviews Black Friday related apps for iPhone and Android owners. Some apps, for instance, use a smart phone's built-in camera to scan merchandise prices and the price compare against other stores in the area.
Keep in mind most brick-and-mortar retailers offer online shopping as well, in many cases with free shipping -- sometimes if a certain minimum purchase amount is made.
Retailers also are using social media sites Facebook and Twitter to woo shoppers.
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