This season appears to mark the end of Black Friday as we know it. But not everybody seems happy about that, judging by reactions from smaller-than-expected crowds at retailers in Utah and elsewhere Thanksgiving night.
For decades, stores have opened their doors in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday. That still played out this year to throngs along the Wasatch Front and beyond. But a change appears to be taking hold because for the second straight holiday season major chains from Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving, this time even earlier than in 2011, turning one the traditional busiest shopping days of the year into a two-day affair.
Lured by earlier-than-ever Black Friday sales, people left Grandma and Grandpa in search of Samsung and Toshiba. They did not go blindly. In dozens of interviews, people acknowledged how spending has become inseparable from the holidays. Older folks pined for the days of Erector Sets and Thumbelinas while in line to pay iPad prices. Even some younger shoppers said it felt wrong to be spending money instead of quality time with family on Thanksgiving.
Most lines of shoppers were thin in the Salt Lake Valley through the afternoon and early evening Thursday as people waited for door busters and other bargains to be rolled out anywhere from 8 p.m. to midnight.
Some consumers and employees pushed back against the decision by Walmart and Target to open on Thanksgiving. The backlash may have had something to do with the smaller crowds, at least early on.
Daniel Moreno got in line near the main entrance at Target's Salt Lake City location on 300 West at 7:30 a.m. Thursday. It would be four more hours until another person showed up. By late afternoon, six people were in line.
"The lines were longer at this time last year," Moreno said, "and the store opened later."
Other Utah shoppers said they were bummed out by the so-called Christmas creep, punctuated by the fact many more retail employees had to work on Thanksgiving.
Some said that the Black Friday bleed into Thursday crossed a line, that merchants should not intrude like this. Yet amid these protests, people still talked about feeling powerless beneath the moment as if they had no choice but to shop.
"We're still out here," said Kelly Jackson, a paralegal who was standing inside a Best Buy store in the Pittsburgh suburbs, a 32-inch television ($189) in her cart. It was a consolation prize because despite four hours in line, she missed the cheaper 40-inchers ($179) that she had heard about while listening to Internet radio.
It all meant that shoppers who wanted to fall into a turkey-induced slumber could still head out to stores early on Black Friday. Others could head straight from the dinner table to stores on Turkey Day. And stores were able to attract both groups by offering door buster sales from the flat-screen TVs to $10 jeans at different times of the day. Early indicators from Black Friday sales and foot traffic were giving retailers some hope for the holiday season.
Retailers such as Macy's, Best Buy Co. and Toys R Us said they were seeing people buying beyond what's on sale, including purchases of full-priced cosmetics.
Black Friday signals the traditional start of retailers' biggest selling period and when they historically begin to turn profitable, so it's an important day. But there are plenty of holiday-shopping days to go. Eight of the top 10 days of the season are in December, with the Saturday before Christmas the No. 2 traffic and sales day.
It won't be clear for a few days how many shoppers took advantage of the Thanksgiving hours. But about 17 percent of people surveyed said earlier this month they planned to shop at stores that opened on Thanksgiving. Thirty-three percent intended to shop on Black Friday, down 1 percentage point from last year.