Veteran Black Friday shoppers will need a new road map to chase down deals this season.
Thanks to the expanding Christmas shopping season, stores are flocking to stage their deep discount doorbuster sales earlier than ever.
Macy's, Kohl's, Target, Bealls and Best Buy pushed their opening bells back to 12:01 a.m. Black Friday. Toys "R" Us opens at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving to move an hour ahead of Wal-Mart, which has pushed many of its best deals back to a 10 p.m. opening and joins Kmart among those open turkey day.
"Our shoppers told us they would rather stay up late than get up early," explained Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchant at Walmart U.S.
The shuffle triggered a cascade of changed Black Friday sale times among rivals that local malls are still sorting out.
"The stores are all jockeying for position," said Gary Malfroid, manager of International Plaza, which opens at 8 a.m. but has a short but growing list of retailers opening at 6 a.m.
The maneuvering is particularly evident at the Shops at Wiregrass, an open-air center in Wesley Chapel where retailers have more freedom to open when they want than stores at an enclosed mall.
A half dozen stores will open at midnight. A few more at 3 a.m. Yet another group opens at 4 a.m. while more clusters open at 5, 5:30 and 6 a.m. before the rest of the center opens at 8 a.m.
"It's staggered openings all night," said Debbie Detweiler, Wiregrass marketing director. "It's still spreading."
"These new earlier openings reduce the need to drive across town for deals," said Dan de Grandpre, CEO of dealnews.com, one of several blogs to post many stores' Black Friday ads.
That may put a drag on Ellenton Premium Outlets, which helped start this "open at midnight and shop all night" business years ago. This year some stores there pushed opening back to 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night before the rest of the center opens at midnight.
Retailers think such shopping adventures create excitement, plus the lackluster economic recovery underscores the urgency to capture as much business as possible and as early as possible just in case the economy sours before Christmas.
"It's hand-to-hand combat already," said Ron Biore, chief executive of Brookstone. "The consumer is tired and frustrated by the slow recovery and government's inability to do much about it. Last Christmas consumers spent because they thought things were getting better. This time they're concerned things might go down again."
Life after Amazon
Like many big retailers that once relied on Amazon.com to run their Web presence, Target Corp. has had learning pains since taking over the operation.
Its site target.com has crashed six times since going live Aug. 23, reports Bloomberg News. That's about half of all the major outages experienced this year by the top 100 websites, according to AlertBot.
Not that special
One of food snobs' top buzz words — artisanal — has lost its meaning.
Once artisan meant handcrafted foods made in small batches from special ingredients. Now it's marketing shorthand for premium ingredients at a value price, says Hartman Group, a market research firm.
More than 800 products in grocery stores now call themselves "artisan" foods, according to DataMonitor. Further dilution stems from uses like Domino's Artisan Pizza, Wendy's Artisan Egg Sandwich and Subway's "sandwich artisans."
Hartman sees "heirloom" foods as the next overkill victim.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.