The holiday shopping season started as a marathon, not a sprint.
More than a dozen major U.S. retailers stayed open for 24 hours or more on Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday, and crowds formed early and often over the two days.
Consider Earnest and Barbara Thomas of Lake Worth and daughter Becca, taking a much deserved midday pretzel break at Ridgmar Mall in west Fort Worth.
Barbara on Thursday night, with a handful of friends, braved their local Wal-Mart Supercenter on Clifford St., arriving at 3 p.m. for the store’s 6 p.m. opening. They used text messages to call in reinforcements to hold a place in line or scout out a deal on a needed item, she said.
Then she and her family set out at 8 a.m. Friday morning on what proved to be a clothing run, including a new hat for Earnest from Fort Worth’s Stockyards.
It was a scene repeated nationally.
About 15,000 people waited for the flagship Macy’s in New York to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.Long checkout lines formed at the Target in Colma, Calif., on Friday morning. And by the time Jessica Astalos was leaving North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Ga., after a six-hour buying binge that started on Thanksgiving, another wave of shoppers was coming in about 5:30 a.m. on Friday.
This year may cement the transformation of the start of the holiday shopping season into a two-day affair.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever done that,” Barbara Thomas said of her Thursday night excursion followed by a Friday morning repeat.
For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start of the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was originally named Black Friday because it was when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black. Retailers opened early and offered deep discounts.
But in the past few years, store chains have been opening on Thanksgiving.
It’s unclear whether the early openings will lead shoppers to spend more over the two days or simply spread sales out.
At the Target store in Watauga, several blockbuster items listed in the popular retailer’s Black Friday ad were still available around 11 a.m. Friday.
Over a dozen Samsung LED 32” televisions on sale for $227 were stacked on a pallet waiting to be purchased. Shoppers were also able to snag $4 DVDs, a $69 convertible gaming chair and $18 womens’ leather boots, all doorbuster deals that had been on sale since 8 p.m. Thursday evening.
That’s all fine with Frances Ray, a Fort Worth great-great-grandmother who waited until 11 a.m. Friday to go with her daughter and grandchildren to a movie, and then several stores for clothing items.
And the inevitable toys?
“All the toys I’m going to buy, I bought them early,” Ray said with a nod. as she was leaving Ridgmar Mall about 4 p.m.
This year, several retailers welcomed shoppers for the first time on Thanksgiving night, while Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened half its stores earlier on the holiday.
Wal-Mart stores, most of which stay open 24 hours, has for the past several years offered doorbusters that had been reserved for Black Friday. And Kmart planned to stay open 41 hours starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
That has led some to question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving, which along with Christmas is one of only two days a year that most stores are closed.
“Black Friday is now Gray Friday,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.
Last year, sales on Thanksgiving rose 55 percent from the previous year to $810 million, as more stores opened on the holiday, according to 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.
Store sales numbers won’t be available until Saturday. The National Retail Federation said 140 million people planned to shop during the four-day holiday weekend.
IBM Benchmark, which tracks e-commerce for 800 retailers, said online sales rose 19.7 percent on Thanksgiving.
There are signs that stores fared well, too.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, started its holiday sales events at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. Wal-Mart said customers bought at least 2.8 million towels, 2 million TVs, 1.4 million tablets, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9 million dolls.
It says 5 million shoppers took advantage of a one-hour guarantee program on Thanksgiving night. That’s up from a preliminary count of 1 million. The strategy allows shoppers who are inside a Wal-Mart store within one hour of a doorbuster sales event to buy that product and either take it home that day or by Christmas.
Terry Lundgren, Macy’s CEO, said the 15,000 people who showed up for the opening of the flagship store was the most ever, up from 11,000 last year. “Clearly people are in the shopping mood,” he said.
Of course, not every retailer saw robust crowds.
At Woodland Hills mall in Tulsa, Okla., the owner of Bags and Bangle complained that he had to stay open from 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 10 p.m. on Friday. Suhail Zaidi, who was required by the mall to keep his booth open, said Thanksgiving was somewhat busy, but business had died down by 3 a.m. On Friday morning, he said he had seen only about 20 customers.
“We ruined the holiday,” Zaidi said. “Black Friday is a good shopping day, but opening up on Thanksgiving is ridiculous.”