Loaded down with purchases, a shopper rests a moment at the Glendale Galleria… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)
Upset by more store openings on Thanksgiving Day, shoppers and retail employees are stepping up efforts to get big chains to back off.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has long been considered the start of the holiday shopping season, with retailers offering big discounts and early-morning deals to attract hordes of shoppers.
But opening times have been drifting earlier. Chains such as Wal-Mart and Sears have announced plans for Black Friday events this year starting as early as 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Frustrated workers and customers say they are unhappy about cutting their family Thanksgiving dinners short.
More than 20 petitions on Change.org urge stores to open later.
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Casey St. Clair of Corona went online to ask Target Corp. to "take the high road and save Thanksgiving." Target ads leaked to Internet deal sites say the chain's stores are opening at 9 p.m. on Turkey Day. A Target spokeswoman declined to comment.
"I currently work two jobs, substitute teaching and [at] Target at nights and weekends, so having Thanksgiving off really does give me that one day to relax and visit family," St. Clair wrote on her Change.org petition page. "Having to work on Black Friday prevents me from going home to the East Coast to see my family."
Shoppers such as Brian Zinn, who created a petition asking stores to open no earlier than 8 a.m. Friday, are also outraged.
"People are being kept from seeing family and enjoying a holiday which should be a time of giving thanks, not going out to spend money on stuff we don't need," he wrote on his petition page. "Their decision to open their stores on a holiday is disgraceful, greedy and disrespectful to everyone."
Retailers in recent years have been experimenting with Black Friday specials that creep into Thanksgiving. But last year saw a substantial shift, analysts say, with Thursday night overtaking Friday morning as the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season, when retailers rake in up to 40% of their annual sales.
Analysts say bricks-and-mortar retailers may have little choice. To compete with online rivals that are accessible 24 hours a day, companies have to generate excitement in order to drag people out of bed to go shopping.
"They need to make it exciting for shoppers to come into stores," said Ron Friedman, a retail expert at advisory and accounting firm Marcum in Los Angeles. "The way to do that is open up early and have hot sale items, so people think they have to eat the turkey and run to the store."
Discount giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and department store chain Sears are each launching "door buster" deals starting at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, their earliest times ever.
Most Wal-Mart stores are open 24 hours a day and have been open on Thanksgiving for many years, company spokesman Steven Restivo said. "Historically, much of our Black Friday preparations have been done on Thanksgiving, which is not unusual in the retail industry."
After opening at 4 a.m. Friday last year, Sears heard from many customers who wanted "to drop their drumsticks and get the door busters" right away, spokesman Brian Hanover said. Sears is trying to accommodate its employees by scheduling seasonal workers and volunteers who want the extra holiday pay.
"We see a demand from associates who ask to work, who want that opportunity to supplement their usual income," Hanover said.
No retailer wants to replicate J.C. Penney's experience, which opened on Friday morning last year and lost momentum to early-bird rivals.
Stores are facing even more pressure this year to match Wal-Mart, which as the world's largest retailer wields huge influence.
Analysts say most Black Friday shoppers, eager for discounts, aren't fazed by workers who cry foul and pass around petitions.
"As long as it doesn't affect them directly, they probably don't think too much about it," said Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics Inc.
Many industry watchers predict that Black Thursday will officially take over as the shopping holiday du jour.
"I hope that the day doesn't come that they all open their stores all day Thanksgiving," Friedman said. "But that day could come.