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November 24 , 2010

Thanksgiving retail creep taking big leap this year

By MARIA HALKIAS / The Dallas Morning News
12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Most people remember the last holiday to fall was New Year's Day.

When archaic blue laws were being repealed, malls and retailers busted into the New Year open for business. To remember New Year's Day being off-limits in Texas, you would've been born by the late 1970s.

Now, it's looking like Thanksgiving Day might be the next to fall.

"It's inevitable. There's a lot of experimenting. Retailers are tiptoeing into Thursday," said John Long, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates. "Time will tell if the strategy is worth pursuing."

The experimenting begins at 7 a.m. Thursday when, for the first time in its 124-year history, Sears opens its doors until noon on Thanksgiving Day. Shopping at other retailers begins in the evening and bumps straight into midnight, which used to be when night owls ventured only as far as the refrigerator for a leftover turkey sandwich.


'Extra day to shop'


Sears is opening with Thanksgiving Day specials of big-screen TVs and diamond and ruby necklaces because "customers wanted an extra day to shop," said Sears Holding senior vice president David Friedman.

Alan Shor, co-founder and president of Retail Connection, said this year has a different vibe.

"Last year, early openings and discounting was out of desperation," he said. "Retailers would have started Christmas on July 4th if they could."

For the second year, most Old Navy stores will open at 8 a.m. Thursday. Two local Banana Republic stores, at Galleria Dallas and West Village, will open at 9 a.m., and the Gap stores at those shopping centers will be open by 1 p.m.

Michaels Stores is opening at 5 p.m. this year, an hour earlier than last year, so that the decorating can begin.

Toys R Us moved up its opening to 10 on Thanksgiving night – and will remain open through the end of Black Friday.

About half the stores at Allen Premium Outlets also will open at 10 p.m., including Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and Coach, which has attracted long lines usually seen at the big-box discounters.

By midnight, shops at Grapevine Mills, Town East Mall and Uptown Village at Cedar Hill begin to open, and it's officially Black Friday. Department stores come next: Kohl's at 3 a.m.; Target, J.C. Penney , Macy's and Sears at 4 a.m.

Consumer electronics shoppers know to be at Best Buy , Fry's and Walmart for specials that begin at 5 a.m. Malls start opening at 6 a.m. Whether it's an hour or an entire day, Thanksgiving creep is taking another leap this year.


Increasing hope


Shor, whose real estate services firm has 200-plus retail clients, said there's a growing sentiment that consumers who have been venturing out only when they need to buy something will continue to think that way over the next six weeks.

Still, it looks like there's more business to be had this year. The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will rise 2.3 percent.

Shoppers plan to make 138 million visits to stores and shopping centers Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for the retail federation. That's up from 134 million last year.

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of Texans surveyed by Deloitte said they plan to spend more or the same as last year. Texas shoppers spent an average of $1,159 last year socializing away from home, entertaining and decorating at home and purchasing gifts. This year, Deloitte predicts an 11 percent increase to $1,287.

"This year, consumers with jobs feel better about their situations. But retailers are worried they're going to make fewer trips to brick-and-mortar stores and do more online shopping," Shor said. "This is the year retailers have to be good not only attracting shoppers into their stores, but also converting them into buyers."

The Thursday-only web specials that are proliferating this year are an acknowledgment that "online never sleeps anyway," Long said.

Walmart, Target and have web-only specials on Thanksgiving Day, and has had the most traffic of any website for the last five years on the holiday, according to Experian Hitwise.

But Thanksgiving creep might not be a foregone conclusion.

Fort Worth-based RadioShack tried it last year at 700 stores and isn't planning to open any this Thanksgiving Day.

RadioShack spokesman Eric Bruner said he can't discuss the details behind the decision. "But I can say that we have concluded the test and will continue to evaluate the approach in the future based on market conditions and customer demand," he said.

It's hard to stop momentum.

Walmart's 24-hour supercenters have been open on Thanksgiving Day for years. The 24-hour Walgreens and CVS, as well as 7-Eleven, are always open. Supermarkets such as Kroger , Tom Thumb and Albertsons are open almost the whole day.

"Look at New Year's Day; it can be a big sale day," said Kurt Salmon analyst Long.

He has mixed emotions about Thanksgiving Day becoming a regular shopping day, leaving only Christmas as the exception on the retail calendar.

"Thanksgiving Day is a special holiday that breaks racial, relationship, religious barriers," he said. "It applies to everyone

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