Black Friday's Increasing Reach

As Holiday traditionalists gripe over Black Friday shopping hours bleeding into Thanksgiving Thursday, experts say discount shopping across the entire weekend is only set to expand, with longer trading periods a future certainty.

Macy's, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Target and Kohl's have all announced plans to begin trading on Thanksgiving Day in an effort to lure more customers and attract greater sales in an increasingly competitive retail landscape.

"There is a little bit of a consumer backlash over stores opening, but that will quickly disappear," Bob Grayson, founder of retail consulting firm The Grayson Company, says. The reason? Retailers are only providing what the customers want.

Plus, Grayson points out, it's not anything new. Thursday shopping hours began in 2010, when Sears opened on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart encroached on the Thursday holiday in 2011, and Target followed last year. More than 35 million people turned up at stores on Thanksgiving last year, up 22% from 2011 and 58% from 2010, reported USA Today.

According to a preliminary Thanksgiving weekend shopping survey released by the National Retail Federation, up to 140 million people plan to or will shop over the weekend (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) in 2013. That number is slightly down from the 147 million who planned to do so last year.

Unlike 2012, the Federation this year asked those surveyed whether they plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Nearly one-quarter (23.5%), or 33 million shoppers, stated that they would. That's good news for retailers already facing the shortest holiday calendar since 2002 due to one less trading weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For all the talk of Thursday trading sounding the death knell for Black Friday, Grayson believes it can only strengthen the appeal of shopping across the entire weekend. "The overall effect is it has had a lot of press and simply calls more attention to the Black Friday weekend. So whether there is migration from Friday to Thursday night, I think what we will see is that by close of business on Friday, the total for the retailer will be greater."

ShopperTrak forecasts that Black Friday will be the busiest shopping day this year for sales and traffic for the 10th straight year.

Mark Ellwood, author of "Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World," believes Thursday  hours could have more of an impact on Cyber Monday than Black Friday, due to retailers such as Wal-Mart offering price matching on Black Friday advertised specials up to a week early. Target went so far as to announce that between Nov. 1 & Dec. 21, they will match prices offered by local competitor's (via printed ad) or select online retailers.

"The retailers that are now opening on Thanksgiving are doing all the other retailers a favor," Ellwood says. "All the deals are now starting on Thursday and the majority are available online with many other retailers matching prices, so why would you wait to run into the store on Friday when you can sit in your pajamas on Thursday and shop."

For retailers, the eventual merging of online trading and store opening hours is a must, adds Grayson. "The customer expects the price on both channels to be identical. So they are gradually coming to the point where they expect store hours to become more identical to online hours. Hours are not going to be cut back in stores."

For those who enjoy the cut and thrust of Thanksgiving door-buster shopping, Ellwood offers up a few tips to maximize the experience, and the bargains: "Never accept the deal you are offered. Check with customer service and ask, ‘If I buy three can I get more money off?’ 'Is free shipping available?' Stores are fighting to get a share of decreasing numbers of dollars. So make them work for it."

Ellwood also believes the early bird can catch an early bargain. "Call on Wednesday or go in and ask, ‘Is there anything I can buy today?’ Don't forget: they want you to spend your money with them."

"Whether those bargains show up as finding an impossible price on Amazon or standing in line outside a Wal-Mart on Thursday, [customers] love it," Grayson says. "It’s not for everybody but it’s for a huge portion of America and it’s partly retailing and partly a sport for those people who participate in it."

And it's unlikely to end anytime soon. 

"Cyber Monday will still be Cyber Monday and Black Friday will still be Black Friday," Grayson says. "The events become bigger. Things rarely retreat to where they were, they are always moving forward. And in this business we are heading for 24/7."

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