Earlier Shopping Season A Gift To Retailers

It's a new tradition: The Friday after Thanksgiving has become the day when families line up early to get a jump on holiday deals. But in recent years, Black Friday has become less important in the retail outlook.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. It's official, another holiday shopping season has begun and it's already been a good weekend for retailers. Thirty thousand shoppers lined up at Minnesota's Mall of America hoping to score big deals. The day's not even over and Wal-Mart says so far it's had its best Black Friday to date. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports that's because the shopping holiday began early this year, very early.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I'm standing outside of a Wal-Mart in Fountain, Colorado, and the parking lot is jam-packed. Cars are roaming around looking for parking spaces. Inside, there are hundreds and hundreds of people searching for Black Friday deals. The thing is it's 8:30 at night on Thanksgiving.

CHRISSY MARXER: I mean, you save a few dollars, but it's just fun to - it's fun to be out.

GLINTON: Chrissy Marxer was at the Wal-Mart with her friends. She says she doesn't think she's happy about things starting on Thanksgiving Day.

MARXER: I really don't think I'm happy about that. You know, it's not the same. It's not the same eating and then rushing to the store, you know?

GLINTON: Did you finish up quicker?

MARXER: No, we enjoyed everything. We did. We had dessert. We enjoyed it. And then we took off.

GLINTON: So why are retailers going through the cost and headache of opening on Thanksgiving?

MARSHAL COHEN: What's happening is retailers, and particularly the brick and mortar stores, have recognized that they need to get into the 21st century, which is ultimately retail 24/7.

GLINTON: Marshal Cohen is a retail analyst with the NPD Group. Cohen says opening up on Thanksgiving and having a few blockbuster sales items helps regular retailers compete with online. He says it's called Black Friday because it's the day stores are supposed to become profitable for the year, not because consumers are actually saving money.

Black Friday doesn't always necessarily represent the best deals for the holiday season. First off, the best deals are always after the Christmas holiday, not necessarily before.

Customers can get even better deals if they wait a bit. While many tried out the deals at night, Amanda Jones says she her friend Jordan Honea stuck to tradition and came out to shop in Lakewood, Colorado, this morning.

AMANDA JONES: It more of the ritual, you know, of actually coming out together, getting up early.

JORDAN HONEA: It's fun, yeah.

JONES: It's like a big scavenger hunt because you come out really early and it's still dark out. So there's something exciting and adventurous about it.

GLINTON: Honea says sticking to tradition paid off for them today.

HONEA: It's different because it's just, you know, a lot more calm. It's not the craziness where the lines are, you know, wrapped around and people trampling each other. I mean it's really different to go out at 6 o'clock this morning and go to the school and be able to calmly find your things.

GLINTON: And then why do you think that is?

HONEA: Just because the stores opened at 9 o'clock last night instead of, you know, all of them opening up at four or 5 o'clock in the morning like past years.

GLINTON: Many retailers say opening up last night has paid off for them as well. Some like Wal-Mart say they've already had record weekends. But economists like Chris Christopher of IHS Global Insight say they don't expect the records to continue throughout the season.

CHRIS CHRISTOPHER: Many of the chain stores start their promotions almost during about Halloween, if not before. And it's still not the most important shopping day. It's still near Christmas Day, a couple of days before.

GLINTON: Christopher says Black Friday or Black Thursday is not about consumers anymore. Now, it's really about stores competing with each other.

CHRISTOPHER: They all have to participate. But it's not as important as a single shopping day as it used to be.

GLINTON: So Black Friday isn't as important as it used to be, and you can't get the best deals. But it still can be fun, right? Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Denver.

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