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Black Friday creep creates shopping divide

It’s one remedy for turkey coma.

Before you reach for a second helping of Thanksgiving dinner — perhaps even before you can actually sit down to Thanksgiving dinner — the annual shopping fete once known as Black Friday will already be under way.

This year, several retailers — including Wal-Mart, the world’s largest — will open earlier than ever for Black Friday, the term used to describe the shopping holiday that has for decades helped retailers boost end-of-year profits.

“Black Friday Eve” or “Gray Thursday,” as it is now called, has been an evolving trend for several years.

And it has created a divide.

Even as some shoppers protest store openings on Thanksgiving, retailers have reported double-digit sales increases as a result of extended hours last year. And although about two dozen retail workers and their supporters have launched online petitions asking employers to save Thanksgiving, others will eagerly accept time-and-a-half holiday pay in today’s tough economy.

“Retailers are reaping their own rewards,” said Ronald Goodstein, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “Retailers have trained shoppers to get a deal, and consumers, like lemmings, have followed suit. Now, the idea is we can get our sales started early and beat the competition. … It is all about them selling more items and making more money.”

Shoppers and retail employees who object to the Thanksgiving Day intrusion have taken to social media in protest — posting complaints on Facebook, for example, or launching petitions on social change website Change.org.

Target employee Casey St. Clair of Corona, Calif., created a petition on Change.org asking the retailer to stop the “Black Friday Creep” so she could have Thanksgiving Day to relax and visit family. St. Clair’s petition has more than 200,000 signatures, a number comparable to a similar petition last year.

Protesters have also made the same request of Best Buy, Wal-Mart and others.

Jennifer O’Donnell, 43, of Sandy Springs was happy to sign St. Clair’s petition.

“I believe in capitalism. The problem is the commercialization of certain holidays,” she said. “Holidays where we are supposed to give thanks should remain holidays.”

Sears was among the first retailers to announce an early opening this year. Its stores will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day compared to last year’s midnight opening.

“The reason behind it largely came from our own “Shop your Way” members and other customers,” said Brian Hanover, spokesman for Sears Holdings Inc. “This is something that a certain segment of the Sears customer base really wants — to be in our stores early.”

Sears will stagger the big deals known as doorbusters with one round at 8 p.m. and another at 4 a.m. They will also allow reward program members to shop the same deals five days early. “You want to talk about early shopping, that is as early as it can get,” Hanover says.

Wal-Mart will also open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year.

“Last year our busiest time was 10 p.m.,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Veronica Marshall. “What (customers) shared was that they would rather stay up late than get up early.”

Wal-Mart is also offering deals at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and they are guaranteeing certain doorbusters for anyone in line between 10 and 11 p.m.

Among the other retailers opening early is Kmart — from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Toys R Us will open an hour earlier this year at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, while department stores including Macy’s and Kohl’s will open at midnight Friday.

This week, Target announced it would open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving with deals including high-definition television sets, cameras and e-Readers.

O’Donnell, a costume designer for film and television, said that in the last couple of years, if she just has to shop on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, she shops online or with small businesses. While she hopes retailers will heed the concerns of consumers opposed to Thanksgiving store openings, she is doubtful they will reverse corporate decisions.

Marshall, Wal-Mart’s spokeswoman, confirms O’Donnell’s doubts. “I think overall (those critics are) still a small number compared to the 140 million customers that come to our store each week,” Marshall said. “I don’t think the conversations taking place right now online will have any impact on the business.”

Nor will they have an impact on the 28.7 million people who did their Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving Day last year, according to data from the National Retail Federation.

So while shoppers must choose to miss out on deals or dinner and store employees miss out on dinner or dollars, retailers it would seem, will always get the prize.

“They aren’t going to lose any business by opening early,” Goodstein said. “If anything, they are gaining.”

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