Is Black Friday dead?
It's a question people started asking when major retailers announced they were adding Thanksgiving hours to kick off Black Friday deals. Instead of getting up before dawn, shoppers could stay up late to hit the stores — or log into their computers — after their turkey dinner.
For retailers, it's not so much about phasing out Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. It's about adding to it and extending the window of time people can shop for the best deals.
Put another way: Stores want to give consumers so many opportunities to shop that they won't be able to stay away — especially this year, when there are fewer shopping days than usual between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Up to 140 million people are expected to hit the stores over the four-day weekend, according to an annual survey done for the National Retail Federation. About 33 million people will shop on Thanksgiving, but the biggest day will be Friday, with about 97 million shoppers. (A lot of people will shop multiple days.)
For a look at what to expect, I visited the Super Target along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater, where the staff has been gearing up for the holiday rush since September. About 3,000 people waited in line for the store to open last Thanksgiving, a number that could be surpassed this year. Target is one of many retailers opening at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year for the big-box chain.
"We saw a lot of families who made it part of their Thanksgiving tradition," said Clearwater manager Meghan Maxey.
Much as in past years, people will start lining up several hours in advance. Most will come for the doorbuster deals, which start Thursday night. For many bargain hunters, the lure is strong. A 50-inch television for $229 (Element 1080p, LED). Beats by Dre Solo HD headphones for $119. An iPad Mini (16 GB) for $299, and it comes with a $75 Target gift card.
Quantities are limited, and once a store runs out, it runs out. Inventories vary widely. One store might have 20 of the big TVs. Another might have 60.
The Clearwater store will have about a dozen security guards and team members keeping the line orderly on Thanksgiving, some of them riding Segways. They'll hand out Luna bars for energy and store maps pointing out the sale items (the $5 pajamas won't necessarily be in the clothing department).
"We want to keep everyone comfortable and informed," Maxey said.
Employees will distribute tickets for some of the doorbuster items, based on how many the store has in stock. That way, if you're waiting for only the Nikon L320 camera ($99) and the store runs out of tickets, you don't have to stick around. Once in the store, shoppers with tickets have an hour to purchase the item.
Target will let shoppers through the doors in groups. There will be no pushing, shoving or starring in a YouTube video titled "Thanksgiving shopping stampede."
The Clearwater store will have all 32 registers open on Thanksgiving night and will wrap the register line through the grocery section, which won't be busy after dinner.
Maxey assures that while the lines will look long, checkout will go quickly. She also adds that shoppers who use baskets will have an easier time getting around the store than people with carts.
Like at most big retailers, all 250 employees will be working on Thanksgiving and Friday. Target pays time and a half for holidays, plus undisclosed additional pay for the overnight shift.
At the Clearwater store, most employees will work from about 7:30 p.m. to midnight Thursday, then come back mid Friday morning for an eight-hour shift. Crowds are expected to thin out between about 1 and 6 a.m. Friday but build back up in the morning and stay steady all day.
As an incentive to shop Friday, Target is giving people who spend $75 that day a coupon for 20 percent off an entire purchase in early December. And, yes, that extends to Apple and other products that never go on sale.
Black Friday sales continue in stores and online through Saturday, proving that the shopping tradition isn't dying. It's just lasting longer.
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.