Hungry for a larger slice of the half-trillion-dollar holiday shopping pie, U.S. retailers are luring patrons with doorbusters as early as 6 a.m. this Thanksgiving. And American families are responding, adding to their list of holiday staples, well, Staples.
A National Retail Federation survey found that 24 percent of the 140 million people who plan to shop during the holiday weekend Thursday through Sunday will be pushing carts through the aisles on Turkey Day itself. Among ages 25 to 34, it's 39 percent.
Logan's Patrick Neary would rather wait until Thanksgiving is over to start thinking about Christmas, and he plans to enjoy a low-key night after dinner with his in-laws. But if stores don't share his sentimentality, he says he can't totally blame them.
"I suppose they appease their customers," Neary said. "If people didn't show up until later on, they probably wouldn't do it."
Retailers are simply giving people another option, said David Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association. If people value time with their loved ones, he said, nobody's forcibly dragging anybody from another's embrace.
And let's face it, there has long been a divide in many households on Thanksgiving.
"I don't think that the shopping piece is any different from the football piece," Davis said. "There are probably those in the family that like to watch football and others that don't like it so much, and wish that those family members would engage in another activity."
Kmart is opening at 6 a.m. Most others are waiting until the evening, including Walmart (6 p.m.), Best Buy (6 p.m.), Target (8 p.m.) and Kohl's (8 p.m.). You may disagree with traditionalists who think the array of early openings marks a new cultural low, but it's definitely a new Lowe's which will offer online specials starting at 2 a.m. Thanksgiving.
Davis said these stores aren't "pushing the envelope" willy-nilly: They have done research that justifies this strategy.
Price's Cathy Pugliese says she likes the idea of some fresh parking-lot air after a long day in a hot kitchen.
"Getting away from everybody, that's my thing," she said with a laugh. She didn't shop on Thursday last year because she wasn't intrigued by any of the deals, but she'll check the ads again this year. Thursday shopping offers a chance to avoid more frenzied crowds on Friday morning, when her husband, daughter and granddaughter dive into the retail rush.
No matter how sweet the deals, Bountiful's Eileen Waite won't be persuaded to leave her house "simply because I think that there needs to be time for family," and it bothers her that retail workers don't have a say in the matter.
But for Katie Weeks, of Provo, who helps feed the mobile masses on Black Friday at Great Harvest, Thursday is an opportunity to score savings she'd otherwise miss. And an American Eagle worker who preferred to be unnamed said that opening a little earlier on Thursday prevents the mad rush at later hours, when shoppers "start getting a little crazy. They want certain items, and they'll fight for it."
Ten percent of last year's Thursday/Friday shoppers were at the store by 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, accounting for $810 million in purchases, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak.
Darrell Switzer, of South Jordan, has his own holiday tradition of dashing around the mall for presents in the waning hours of Christmas Eve. The true meaning of Thanksgiving aside, he mostly feels pressured by all this November hullabaloo.
"It makes me feel like more of a procrastinator. Like, why am I not out doing that right now?"
Black Thursday openings
The following stores have announced their intent to open on Thanksgiving Day.
Lowe's, 2 a.m. deals online
Kmart, 6 a.m.
Walgreens, 8 a.m.
Old Navy, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; re-open at 7 p.m.
Michaels, 4 p.m.
Toys R Us, 5 p.m.
Walmart, 6 p.m.
Best Buy, 6 p.m.
Sears, 8 p.m.
JC Penney, 8 p.m.
Macy's, 8 p.m.
OfficeMax, 8 p.m.
Office Depot, 8 p.m.
Dick's, 8 p.m.
Shopko, 8 p.m.
Target, 8 p.m.
Kohl's, 8 p.m.
Staples, 9 p.m.
American Eagle, 9 p.m.