Big-name retailers, like Target (TGT, Fortune 500), Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) and Macy’s launched their Black Friday sales in the evening hours Thursday, while Kmart opened even earlier, at 6 a.m., with plans to remain open for 41 hours straight.
Mall managers across the country said shoppers still arrived in droves but the earlier openings led to a smoother flow of traffic throughout the night, instead of the usual rush at midnight. Edward Larson, who manages a J.C. Penney in Great Falls, Mont., said customers were “more purposeful and not as frenzied.”
The Town East Mall in the suburbs of Dallas opened at 8 p.m., and thousands made their way to Macy’s (M, Fortune 500), Sears (SHLD, Fortune 500) and J.C. Penney. (JCP, Fortune 500) Their demeanor was more calm and reserved than in years past, said mall manager Chad Hastings.
“This is definitely a game changer,” Hastings said. “In future years, the customer will expect stores to open at 8:00.”
The earlier start also meant that foot traffic dropped off in the morning’s early hours, an unusual sight. South Florida’s Aventura Mall was nearly empty at 5 a.m.
Even those who stayed home found it hard to resist the deals, with a record number of people shopping online Thanksgiving Day. Department stores tallied 20% higher online sales on Thanksgiving Day alone this year, according to data collected by IBM. Just over a quarter of them used their smartphones to make purchases.
Shoppers say workers should be home with their loved ones. But it won’t stop them from heading out anyway.
“I don’t like that the hours are earlier. I think people should be able to be with their families on Thanksgiving,” said Kim Schaefer as she shopped for shoes at J.C. Penney.
At a Target in Philadelphia, Qiana Roberts skipped Thanksgiving dinner for a spot in line. Collin Cook ate extra early on Thursday to join the masses at J.C. Penney in Wayne, N.J.
And that’s why businesses are throwing up their hands and saying: ‘It’s not us. It’s you.’
“We’re a service industry,” said Wal-Mart’s U.S. CEO Bill Simon. “If the traffic is any indication, they clearly want to shop on Thursday evening. We’ll provide that for them.”
This year’s early start to Black Friday proves Thanksgiving as you know it is gone. – Nov. 29, 2013