Bar­gain shop­ping a hol­i­day hap­pen­ing

‘Gray Thurs­day’ sales lure buy­ers de­spite crit­i­cism

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

ENGLEWOOD, COLO. | Bryna Reid wasn’t in charge of cook­ing the tur­key this year, so she popped over to Kmart early Thurs­day to take ad­van­tage of its Thanks­giv­ing Day “door­buster” deals.

What, shop­ping on Thanks­giv­ing? For all the crit­i­cism sur­round­ing this year’s pre-Black Fri­day shop­ping sea­son, Ms. Reid said she didn’t have a prob­lem hit­ting the sales on what might be called “Gray Thurs­day.”

“I think if you want to shop on Thanks­giv­ing, that’s OK,” said Ms. Reid as she loaded her bags into her car. “I looked online and saw Kmart had some re­ally good deals. My lit­tle sis­ter took my boots, and I saw Kmart had a [buy one get one], so I got some boots for me and my son.”

Kmart was the ear­li­est of the ma­jor early-shop­ping re­tail­ers, open­ing its doors at 6 a.m. here for its “triple door­buster” sale. A dozen other stores were sched­uled to open Thurs­day evening, start­ing at 5 p.m. with Toys R Us.

Those open­ing at 6 p.m. Thurs­day in­cluded Wal-Mart and Best Buy, while a half-dozen oth­ers were plan­ning to open their doors at 8 p.m., such as J.C. Pen­ney, Macy’s, Sears, Sta­ples, Tar­get and Kohl’s, ac­cord­ing to CNBC-TV’s Black Fri­day Score­card.

The Thanks­giv­ing Day open­ings riled groups like ThinkProgress, which has dubbed the early shop­ping sched­ule “the war on Thanks­giv­ing” and crit­i­cized re­tail­ers for “drag­ging mil­lions of work­ers away from fam­ily and friends.”

Mean­while, the pro-la­bor group Our Wal­mart plans protests at 1,500 lo­ca­tions on Thurs­day and Fri­day to rally for higher wages for Wal-Mart em­ploy­ees, de­scribed in a news re­lease as “one of the largest mo­bi­liza­tions of work­ing fam­i­lies in Amer­i­can his­tory.”

Wal-Mart spokes­woman Brooke Buchanan told The As­so­ci­ated Press that her com­pany’s em­ploy­ees have given “re­ally good feed­back” about work­ing the hol­i­day. The Arkansas-based re­tailer also noted that it gives work­ers hol­i­day pay, is serv­ing them din­ners and giv­ing them a 25 per­cent dis­count on a pur­chase.

Re­tail­ers ar­gue that the early open­ings are more im­por­tant than ever this year, given the tight-fisted mood of con­sumers and the shorter shop­ping sea­son be­tween Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas. Fall­ing on Nov. 28, this year’s Thanks­giv­ing is as late as it pos­si­bly can be, cut­ting sev­eral days off the nor­mal hol­i­day shop­ping pe­riod.

For many years now, the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing has been the big­gest shop­ping day of the year, has car­ried the nick­name “Black Fri­day” and been con­sid­ered the start of the Christ­mas shop­ping sea­son.

But that dom­i­nance has eroded in the past few years, both from cy­ber­shop­ping ac­count­ing for a big­ger share of ev­ery re­tailer’s sales and from a kind of arms race among re­tail­ers about who can be open first. Open­ings and the as­so­ci­ated sales and door prizes and so on have grad­u­ally and more widely been pushed back in the past decade from 6 a.m. Fri­day to mid­night to Thanks­giv­ing evening and now, ear­lier still on Tur­key Thurs­day.

In New York, More than 200 peo­ple waited out­side a Toys R Us, led by Green Bryant, 28, who told an As­so­ci­ated Press reporter that she had been in line since 10 a.m. — seven hours be­fore the store opened. And a Brook­lyn Tar­get store al­ready had about 25 peo­ple be­fore 3 p.m., in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the 8 p.m. open­ing.

“Hon­estly if I can get a good deal, I do not mind,” Theresa Al­can­taro said about Thanks­giv­ing Day shop­ping and miss­ing a fam­ily gath­er­ing of about 40 peo­ple. “I see my fam­ily ev­ery day. They un­der­stand.”

Ms. Bryant, a restau­rant man­ager, said she bought a doll­house, a LeapFrog learn­ing sys­tem and a Bar­bie doll. She said she had no re­grets about miss­ing much of the day but would cook a din­ner for her fam­ily when she got home in the evening.

“It was worth it,” she said. “Now I gotta go home and cook.”

Last year, ac­cord­ing to Shop­perTrak, na­tion­wide re­tail sales on Thanks­giv­ing Day reached $810 mil­lion, from around $520 mil­lion in 2011. While 2012 Black Fri­day sales were off 1.8 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, the $11.2 bil­lion fig­ure still dwarfed the Thurs­day num­bers.

“Black Fri­day is now Gray Fri­day,” Craig John­son, pres­i­dent of Cus­tomer Growth Part­ners, told the AP. “It’s been pulled all the way to the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber.”

And, as with Black Fri­day, Gray Thurs­day has seen stores re­spond by of­fer­ing deep dis­counts and tan­ta­liz­ing sales.

“Wal-Mart is dan­gling a 32-inch flat-screen TV for $98, down from $148 last year,” Bloomberg News re­ported. “Sears has waived lay­away fees and its Kmart chain is in­tro­duc­ing a rent-to-own pro­gram.”

Per­haps no re­tailer has done more to lure con­sumers than Old Navy, which is launch­ing a pro­mo­tion called Overnight Mil­lion­aire. The first 500 shop­pers at its stores, which opened at 7 p.m. Thurs­day, will be en­tered for a chance to win a ran­domly drawn $1 mil­lion prize.

“Overnight Mil­lion­aire game cards are sure to go quickly so be sure to line up early!” said the Old Navy ad.

None of this is an is­sue in Maine, Mas­sachusetts and Rhode Is­land, where state “blue laws” pre­vent depart­ment stores and other large re­tail­ers from open­ing on Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas.

At the Kmart here in Colorado, sev­eral shop­pers said the con­tro­versy over Thanks­giv­ing shop­ping has been overblown. Most gro­cery stores have long of­fered lim­ited hours for cooks in need of last-minute in­gre­di­ents, and Star­bucks is open Thurs­day morn­ing for those crav­ing a pre-tur­key jolt of caf­feine.

Ben McFar­land had an ur­gent rea­son for mak­ing the trek to Kmart: He said he planned to deep-fry his tur­key, and “We ran out of propane.”

Kathy P., who de­clined to give her last name, said shop­ping at Kmart on Thanks­giv­ing morn­ing is as much a fam­ily tra­di­tion as cran­berry sauce and pump­kin pie. This year, she was ac­com­pa­nied by her two daugh­ters and grand­daugh­ter, all of whom were tot­ing bags that in­cluded socks and pa­ja­mas.

“Kmart is al­ways open on Thanks­giv­ing morn­ing and has been for 20 years,” she said. “Ev­ery year, we put the tur­key in the oven and then come down here for the deals.”

AN­DREW S. GERACI/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

MAK­ING A PLAN, CHECK­ING IT TWICE: Bill and Lisa Carter of Lor­ton try to stay warm un­der a large blan­ket while check­ing the Black Fri­day ads out­side the Best Buy in Spring­field hours be­fore the store opened at 6 p.m. on Thanks­giv­ing Day.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Shop­pers stand in line out­side, wait­ing for Best Buy to open on Thanks­giv­ing evening in Bax­ter, Minn.

Luis Tor­res and his daugh­ter Stephanie search for more deals af­ter pick­ing up a 50-inch tele­vi­sion dur­ing the door­buster sales at Kmart in Chicago. Re­tail­ers ar­gue that the early open­ings are more im­por­tant than ever this year, given the tight-fisted mood of con­sumers and the shorter shop­ping sea­son be­tween Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas.

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