‘New Black Friday’ is more than just a day

Towne East J.C. Penney employee Derreck Andrews stocks sweaters for Thanksgiving Day sales. (Nov. 18, 2014)
Towne East J.C. Penney employee Derreck Andrews stocks sweaters for Thanksgiving Day sales. (Nov. 18, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

It’s the week before Thanksgiving, and Rich Tindall is busy stacking boxes of waffle irons into neat piles in the passage between the up and down sides of the escalator at the Towne East Square J.C. Penney store.

Normally priced at $50, on Thanksgiving Day, they’ll be $9.99.

Same with a toaster. A kitchen knife set will be $19.99.

“You see these pillows? I’ve got a thousand of them,” said Tindall, the store manager. “They’ll be marked at $3.99. I’ll sell all of them.”

Shoppers love bargains and appreciate no longer having to stand in the cold in the middle of the night waiting for Black Friday deals to begin, Tindall said.

Most chain stores in Wichita are opening at 5 or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, continuing a trend that took off a few years ago and now seems to be spreading in both directions.

Shopping on Black Friday, as the day after Thanksgiving has been known, has been a phenomenon for about 75 years, according to the National Retail Federation. But in recent years, the big chain stores got into a competition to see who could open earlier. They opened at 6 a.m. on Friday, then 5, then 2, then midnight on Thanksgiving Day, backing it up to 10 p.m., then 8 p.m. – until 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving became the standard last year.

J.C. Penney is opening at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and will stay open 29 hours straight, Tindall said. He said he’ll be there overnight. The key thing for staying up all night, he said, is to stay busy and avoid the lounge chairs.

Most retailers are pushing Thanksgiving promotions hard, starting early and discounting deep, to boost sales in the face of recent weak financial performance and fierce competition from online retailers. It’s been a tough market for growth: Through October, the sale of general merchandise in the U.S. has risen just 1.7 percent from a year ago, not adjusted for inflation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This year, shoppers will spend an average of $804 on Christmas shopping, a 4.1 percent increase, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

Black Friday has morphed from a few hours of crazed shopping into a complex five-day event, beginning on Thanksgiving (or earlier) and running through CyberMonday, with extended hours and multiple in-store and online specials. It pays to look through the lengthy weekly store ads that try to lay it out.

“Retailers in 2010, at the height of the recession, were looking to shake up the market and capture more customer dollars, and expanding Black Friday is one of those things they tried,” said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

In the years since, the deals have started earlier and the discounts have only gotten steeper as the season progressed. As part of retailers’ efforts to attract shoppers, they also are figuring out how to marry in-store and online shopping.

In just one helpful example, Grannis said, if some retailers run out of products on special, store staff members can order that product online for those who missed out.

Wal-Mart is a little different. It’s typically open 24 hours already, so it has tinkered with how to structure its door-buster specials so there isn’t a dangerous press of shoppers inside the stores.

This year, it will sell its specials at 6 and 8 p.m. Thursday and 6 a.m. Friday and will have people come to certain spots inside the store. It will hand out wristbands to those lined up so they don’t have to stay in line and are guaranteed access to the specially priced product.

But the company is also stretching out its deals over five days, online and in the store, in a promotion it calls the New Black Friday.

“The days of waking up at dawn or before and standing in line – those days are over,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield. “We’ve spread it out so that everybody can get the best day to shop, but they take time to watch a parade or shop online.”

She said the evolution is a response to customer demands for more options on when to get Black Friday-type specials.

“It’s all based on customer feedback,” she said. “They want better deals and better service.”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.

When the specials begin

▪ Best Buy, 5 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Cabela’s, 5 a.m. Nov. 28

▪ Dick’s, 5 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Dillards, closed Thanksgiving; open 8 a.m. Nov. 28

▪ Gander Mountain, 8 a.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Gordman’s, 6 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Home Depot, closed Thanksgiving; open 5 a.m. Nov. 28

▪ Kmart, 6 a.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Kohl’s, 6 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Lowe’s, closed Thanksgiving; open 5 a.m. Nov. 28

▪ Menards, closed Thanksgiving, open 6 a.m. Nov. 28

▪ Michaels, 4 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Sam’s Club, closed Thanksgiving; open 7 a.m. Nov. 28

▪ Sears, 6 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Target, 6 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Toys R Us, 5 p.m. Thanksgiving

▪ Wal-Mart, open 24 hours, specials start at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving