(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Would the later openings, which gave employees more time to spend with their families, cause sales to suffer?
For JCPenney, the move paid off. The retailer is one of few stores that opened later than in 2011, moving its opening from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Store manager Sarah Grigaitis said the more traditional Black Friday opening time helped boost sales.
"We had far bigger crowds at opening this year than last year," she said. "People had done their shopping from midnight on and we may have been their last stop."
The Friday morning opening also improved morale.
"It benefited my whole team because they got to spend Thanksgiving Day with their families without having to think about this place," Grigaitis said.
Some shoppers said saving thousands of dollars made it worth skipping part of Thanksgiving at home.
"It's worth it to me for all the money we are saving on gifts," said Serena Poppen, who arrived at Best Buy in Cape Girardeau at 8 p.m. Thursday. Snuggled in a lawn chair beneath blankets, she waited for the store's midnight opening to buy a 50-inch TV and other electronic presents for her family and friends.
Stores in Cape Girardeau and across the country opened earlier than ever, starting Black Friday on Thanksgiving, cutting into employees' and customers' holiday time. In Cape Girardeau, customers came out in droves.
Scott Sander, who has shopped Black Friday at Best Buy for the last five years, said his family usually saves about $1,000, on average, by shopping on Black Friday. This year, he expected to save about $2,000. His nephew, James Fortner, estimated he would save about $1,200 on the items on his shopping list. They huddled around a portable heater and ate leftovers brought to them by family members.
"For a lot of people, if they continue to keep moving [opening times] back like this, it's not going to make it worth it for them to come out and miss Thanksgiving with their family. There'll be more families missing more people," said Kim Sander, who joined her husband in line after dinner with her side of the family.
Melissa King said she opted for Taco Bell instead of turkey this year as she waited in line at Target. This year Target moved up its opening three hours -- from midnight last year to 9 p.m. Thursday, which meant King had to get in line earlier.
"I said save me a plate, I'll see ya'll tomorrow," she said.
Other stores that opened Thursday included Toys'R'Us, which bumped its opening from 9 p.m. last year to 8 p.m. Walmart, offered Black Friday deals beginning at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. Sears opened at 8 p.m. although it wasn't open Thanksgiving Day last year.
Customers had mixed feelings about the earlier openings, said Target store manager Liz Wassell.
"There's been a lot of different reactions. Some customers are excited that we're staying competitive. Some people are not," Wassell said.
The earlier opening went smoothly, she said, thanks to crowd-management plans and staff training weeks ago.
Priscilla Webb of Sikeston, Mo., who waited outside Toys'R'Us on Thursday evening to save more than $100 on a pink PowerWheels Escalade for her 3-year-old daughter, said she prefers the earlier openings.
"I didn't want to wake up at 4 or 5 a.m.," she said. "This 8 p.m. opening time is perfect, but anything earlier would be taking away from Thanksgiving."
Treva Crain of Poplar Bluff, Mo., planned to end her shopping with a 5 a.m. trip to Walmart, which had three different sets of "doorbuster" deals at three different times this year.
Crain and more than 100 other women swarmed Victoria Secret inside West Park Mall when it opened at midnight, and she was the first one in the checkout line.
"I knew what I wanted and I knew exactly where it was," said Crain, who had scouted the in-store location of the Black Friday items she wanted a week ahead of time.
While JCPenney lost some volume in the early morning hours it was not open, those losses were not what Grigaitis feared they would be.
Crowds were steady throughout Friday, she said, and new mobile point-of-sale units were used to help shoppers check out on the spot, instead of making them bring items to a stationary cash register. Credit cards were scanned and receipts emailed to customers to speed the process.
About 17 percent of shoppers said they had planned to take advantage of Thanksgiving hours, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers conducted from Nov. 15 to Nov. 18. That figure is up slightly from 16 percent in 2011. On Black Friday, 33 percent of those surveyed said they intended to shop, down from 34 percent in 2011.
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