"The concept of seamless convenience is really prevalent this season," Ms. Grannis said.
The retail federation is estimating that up to 147 million people -- down slightly from 152 million last year -- will shop this weekend on Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), so-called because historically it marked the start of the holiday shopping season when a retailer's annual sales would move from negative fiscal position and into the black.
Unknown, however, is how many will give up their traditional Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends to head to the stores on Thursday.
Retail consultant Jeff Green, of Jeff Green Partners, said for some, shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is anathema, but a certain type of shoppers loves the idea of bargain hunting and will shop this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
"The people who hate it will never shop on Black Friday no matter what the deal is. But what you'll find this year is that by Thanksgiving evening and very early the next morning, with everybody shopping earlier for those deep discount bargains, those items will be gone by 2 or 3 in the morning," Mr. Green said.
"Last year was the first year they really started doing this and what I noticed is on Thanksgiving evening and the wee hours of Black Friday, things were really, really busy. But from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., stores were not that busy," he said.
Michael Brim, operator of the Web site Black Friday Ads (www.bfads.net), which since 2003 has been publishing retailers' Black Friday advertisements in the weeks and months prior to Thanksgiving, said he thinks this year's trend of more major retailers opening on Thursday evening could be a watershed moment for stores and customers.
A push-back against Thanksgiving day store hours has gained steam, with many consumers agreeing that too many retail employees now are being forced to give up one of their few holidays. A Target employee this year began an online petition asking the retailer to cancel its 9 p.m. Thursday opening, and thus far the petition has 222,563 signers.
Travis Smith, the chief executive officer of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, issued a statement Friday saying the company's stores will not be open on Thanksgiving specifically to give its employees their expected day off.
"We respect our team members and believe this is a day they should spend with their families," Mr. Smith stated.
Mr. Brim said the controversy over Thanksgiving Day hours isn't just about inconveniencing store employees. Consumers are starting to feel inconvenienced.
"Now people have to choose if they want to go out and get a deal or enjoy a typical Thanksgiving holiday," Mr. Brim said.
"It kind of makes you wonder about next year. We're at 8 p.m. this year and what will they do next year, 6 p.m.? At 6 p.m. that is conflicting with dinner and that's kind of crazy," Mr. Brim said. "That's why, I think, a lot of stores are starting Thanksgiving sales online. ... That may be where other stores go next year."
Locally-owned Toledo-area stores do not appear to be follow the national chains into Thursday night openings.
The Appliance Center, the Maumee electronics, appliance, and furniture retailer, for example, will stick with its 6 a.m. Friday opening.
"We have loyal customers and they expect us to open when we normally do," sales manager John Nickoloff said. "We'll have lots of specials and we expect several hundred people to be lined up before we open."
At the Learning Express toy store, which has stores in Sylvania and Maumee, owners Molly and Gary Fitzpatrick said they too will stick with their traditional Friday openings. The Maumee store in the Shops at Fallen Timbers opens at 6 a.m. when the rest of the mall opens, while the stand-alone Sylvania store opens at 8 a.m.
"We're going to let our customers and employees enjoy their Thanksgiving," Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
This year every retailer has a lot of good deals designed to encourage shoppers to make purchases, according to Black Friday Ads.net, but there are few outstanding bargains.
This year, Walmart, Best Buy, and Sam's Club have the price cuts that stand out the most among the national retailers, Mr. Brim said.
Walmart is selling an Xbox 360 4 gigabyte gaming system with a Skylanders game for $150. "It's a pretty good deal," Mr. Brim said.
Best Buy, he said, is offering a Toshiba 40-inch LCD 1080p television for just $180 and a Lenovo laptop computer for $190, while Sam's Club is selling a Dyson DC33 vacuum cleaner for $250. "We checked and refurbished Dysons cost $229, but Sam's is selling brand new ones for $250," Mr. Brim said.
Mr. Green said the lack of eye-popping Black Friday deals and more good deals this year may be because most people already have purchased must-have technologies. There has not been a new ground-breaking item for a few years and smart phones and tablets have taken over the need for owning several devices -- portable music players, laptops, video players, and cameras.
"Consumer electronics are not going to be as strong this year as they have been in the past because consumer electronics have become a commodity," Mr. Green said. "By that, I mean you won't wait for iPhone as a gift. You're going to get it when it comes out because you need it."
Mr. Green suggested that apparel retailers may benefit.
"Last winter was so warm a lot of people didn't buy winter apparel, but if it's a normal season, that is, snow and cold, I think you will see a lot of apparel sold and I would not be surprised if there's pent up demand for winter apparel with people buying clothing just for themselves, rather than as gifts," Mr. Green said.
Contact Jon Chavez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6128.
(c)2012 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)
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