Retailers hope to cash in on Thanksgiving Day

COLMA, Calif.

Some major retailers are hoping to cash in on bargain-hunters who do not want to wait until Black Friday. It is a real break with tradition. Sears is opening on Thanksgiving for the first time in its 124-year history. One store spokesperson says the five-hour window, from 7 a.m. to noon, is in response to customer requests for an extra day to shop for deals, while avoiding mass Black Friday crowds.

Since a family-sized turkey can take 3.5 hours to roast, that leaves plenty of time for cooks and their loved ones to socialize on Thanksgiving. However, retailers at the mall and online are trying to capitalize on the less hectic morning hours to get consumer to shop.

Sears, Old Navy and Walmart opened some locations at 7:00 this morning. However, there were no stampede or long queues compared to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when stores offer bargain "door buster" deals to get shopper out for openings as early as 3 a.m. Kohl's is advertising today its doors will open at 3 a.m. tomorrow, while Target is opening at 4 a.m. A few retailers plan to open tonight at 10 p.m.

Online retailers have specials to entice shoppers as well. Free shipping and 25 percent discounts appear on many sites today.

For the past couple years, Black Friday sales have been shifting up a day, with many stores, like Sears, now opening their doors on a day traditionally spent at home with family and friends. Other national retailers opening today are Walmart, Kmart, Old Navy and the home crafts store Michaels. More are joining the trend of offering Black Friday-type deals earlier and earlier during the month of November.

Retail experts say stores are competing for that extra business, hoping consumers will spend more.

"I think the projections this year, nationally, are that retail sales are going to be up between two and three percent from last year. But, at the same time, I think consumers are still pretty cautious with their spending, certainly in California, with the economy the way it is, that it's not the free-spending era that we might have had a decade ago," says Professor Dale Achabal, Executive, Director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University.

The problem with transforming Turkey Day into a mall day is that not all stores are jumping the gun. Most are sticking to the past strategy of kicking off the holiday shopping season tomorrow. That means early shoppers at San Jose's Westfield Oakridge Mall discovered the Starbucks near the movieplex didn't have brewed coffee yet at 10 a.m. because they had just opened.

The holiday shopping season actually kicked off around Nov. 1 when some retailers began using social media to prime consumers' interest in shopping. The Gap was offering a free pair of jeans for those who follow the retailer on Facebook. A retail consultant in New York, whom we interviewed via Skype video, told ABC7 that social media is a new vehicle to spread the word about new fashions, bargains and sales.

One store offering special deals and drawing a crowd is Best Buy, even though it does not open until 5 a.m. Friday. At one Best Buy store in Colma, shoppers hoping to score on consumer electronics door-busters started lining up Tuesday and have been camping out since then.

The National Retail Federation estimates that this year, 138 million people will go shopping during Black Friday weekend, 4 million more people than last year. If you skip shopping today, do not worry. There will be plenty more stores swinging open their doors starting at 3, 4, and 5 a.m. Friday.

We'll be tracking retail activity today, including how online sales are doing. Look for the story later today online and on ABC7 News at 5 and 6.

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