Shoppers flock to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa for Black Friday specials… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)
Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is kicking off its Black Friday deals earlier than ever, as more stores open their doors for holiday deals even before shoppers have polished off turkey dinners.
Hoping to curb shopper frustration that has marred some past Black Friday shopping, the world's biggest retailer is also guaranteeing that shoppers in line at a certain time on Thanksgiving will get their hands on three hot deals for the holidays.
Although many Wal-Mart stores are open all day on Thanksgiving, special holiday promotions will begin at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. Other deals on electronics, jewelry and even tires will be staggered throughout the night.
"We got customer feedback that said, 'I like to go out and shop earlier and get to bed earlier,'" said Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer of Wal-Mart U.S.
To the delight of some shoppers and the frustration of others, retailers have been experimenting in recent years with Black Friday specials that creep into Thanksgiving.
Last year, several retailers including Target Corp., Macy's Inc. and Kohl's Corp. decided for the first time to open at midnight, a trend that could eventually replace Black Friday with Black Thursday as the unofficial holiday kickoff. This year, Sears will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and Best Buy at midnight.
At Wal-Mart, shoppers queued up from 10 to 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving will be able to nab an Emerson 32-inch television for $148, an LG Blu-ray player for $38 or a $75 Wal-Mart gift card with the purchase of a 16-GB Apple iPad 2. Even if a particular Wal-Mart runs out, customers can pay and have the product shipped to the store. "We believe the one-hour guarantee … will eliminate customer frustration during Black Friday," MacNaughton said.
Such a move could also prevent aggressive shoppers from making headlines like on past Black Fridays, analysts said. Last year, a woman in Porter Ranch pepper sprayed fellow customers, and a 2008 stampede in Long Island killed one worker.
"If they get the word out that if a store runs out, people shouldn't panic and they can still get the deal, that will help with the crowds," said Ron Friedman, a retail expert at accounting and advisory firm Marcum in Los Angeles. "That is a smart move to prevent what happened last year, which really gave Wal-Mart a black eye."
Promising that shoppers can nab great deals could change the dynamic of Black Friday, analysts said.
"They are raising the bar pretty high because there are not many retailers that can beat that offer," said Britt Beemer, a retail expert at America's Research Group, referring to Wal-Mart's one-hour guarantee. "They are going to put the pain on Best Buy, which will have to match it or try to compete against it."