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Ready, set, shop: Bargains come early for those who can't wait

Posted November 28, 2013
Updated November 29, 2013

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— Holiday shopping in 2013 looks more like a marathon than a sprint. 

More than a dozen major retailers from Wal-Mart to Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving Day and planned to stay open through Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

As a result, crowds formed early and often Thursday evening.

Just 14 minutes after opening, 407 shoppers were inside the Old Navy at Cary Crossroads shopping center.

“You know like the amusement parks,” customer Kelly Flake said about the crowds. “It’s like that. You can’t shop.”

But that didn’t stop her from trying.

“It’s just fun,” Flake said.

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The holiday shopping season is transforming right before shoppers' eyes. For nearly a decade, Black Friday, which was initially named that because it was historically when retailers turned a profit for the year, had been the official start to the busy buying binge sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. Some like Macy's and J.C. Penney opened on Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Others like Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened some of its stores earlier on Thanksgiving than the year before. And many pushed up the discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November.

The earlier openings and sales were met with some resistance. Some workers' rights groups had planned protests on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they opposed having retail employees miss family meals at home. And some shoppers had said they would not venture out on Thanksgiving because they believe it's a sacred holiday meant to spend with family and friends.

Shopper John Parrish definitely did not look like he was having fun. Black Friday Shopping: 2013 Earlier Black Friday deals ease crowds at some retailers

“I rather it opened on Friday instead of Thursday so we can spend time with the family,” he said.

Another male customer seemed equally pained. When his baby starting crying and screaming in all the commotion, he simply said, “I feel the same way."

But that didn't stop other shoppers from taking advantage of the earlier openings and sales. In fact, some retail experts question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving. It even has even led some to refer to the holiday as Black Thanksgiving or Gray Thursday and question whether the earlier openings would make people shop more over the two days or push up sales from Black Friday.

"Black Friday is now Gray Friday," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.

The Thanksgiving openings took a bite out of Black Friday sales last year. Sales on turkey day were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.

This year, sales figures for this year's Thanksgiving and Black Friday will trickle out in the next couple days. Meanwhile, one thing was clear: Shoppers across the country were taking advantage of the deals on both days.


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