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Who's to Blame for This Year's Early Black Friday?

Danielle Kurtzleben

Instead of spending their Thanksgiving afternoons watching football, more shoppers will be walking off their food comas in the aisles of big-box stores.

Walmart, Best Buy, JCPenney, Kohl's, Target, and other major retailers will give shoppers the jump on Black Friday by opening on Thanksgiving evening. Kmart, meanwhile, will trump all of its big-box competitors by opening on Thanksgiving at 6 a.m., as it has for the last three years.

Many have criticized these stores for impinging upon a national holiday traditionally set aside for family, and as U.S. News' Pat Garofalo writes, the Turkey Day store openings are indicative of bigger problems with U.S. labor practices. But here are three other forces who influenced stores' decisions to open early:

[READ: Black Friday Has Become Black Thursday for Workers]


Though instead of "ourselves," it might be more precise to say "those consumers among us who are willing to go out in the Thanksgiving cold for bargain-hunting."

Retailers make the argument that they're simply giving shoppers what they want.

"People have shopped on Thanksgiving Day since we started surveying people. The difference the last three years is that retailers are flicking the light switch on," says Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. According to federation surveys, around 11 percent of consumers in 2005 went shopping on Thanksgiving. As of last year, it was over 25 percent.

Figures from the federation suggest people have started shopping earlier this year than in recent years. The store's latest online monthly consumer survey finds that 46 percent of shoppers have yet to start their holiday shopping, the lowest November reading ever on the survey, which is in its sixth year.

In other words, one can argue that there are plenty of zealous pre-Black-Friday shoppers; brick-and-mortar retailers are just increasingly capitalizing on it.

[DEBATE: Are 'Black Friday' Christmas Sales Starting Too Early?]

Abraham Lincoln

The 16th president set the date of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November, which this year falls on November 28, almost at the very end of the month. As the holiday shopping season is traditionally considered to start on the day after Thanksgiving, this year's season is the shortest in a decade. This has compelled retailers to amp up their preseason hours, says one analyst.

"There's a shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so there's fewer days to shop," says Ali Lipson, senior retail and apparel analyst at market research firm Mintel. Retailers are adding extra Thanksgiving hours in order to get as much extra shopping-season time in as possible.


Starting Black Friday early could be a sign retailers know it's going to be a tough season, says Grannis.

"There's a few factors already at work here. They're dealing with an already frugal customer," she says. The federation found in an October survey that the average holiday shopper planned to spend nearly $738 this year, down from $752 last year. That hesitance to spend is a result of a shaky economy, coupled with uncertainty from Washington.

"[Retailers] are dealing with an economy that is just barely growing. And the potential for further confusion comes later this holiday season and 2014 with questions surrounding the debt ceiling and health care."

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