Beaufort County retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day for shoppers

dburley@islandpacket.comOctober 28, 2013 

20081201 Shopping shape

TIM BEDISON — Fort Worth Star-Telegram

It seems Christmas comes earlier every year.

And lately, so does the shopping.

With sales predicted to be sluggish this holiday season, Beaufort County retailers are opening their doors on Thanksgiving to try to entice more shoppers searching for Black Friday deals.

More retailers are opening on Thanksgiving, experts say, as department stores jockey to capture customers' dollars.

"Black Friday is the mother of all shopping weekends," said Britt Beemer, CEO of the Charleston-based America's Research Group, a consumer behavior research firm.

"The consumer is more deal-driven today than one or two years ago," he said. "Some stores think, 'Why not open earlier?'"

For the first time, JCPenney in Beaufort will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, joining Belk department stores in Beaufort County, which also open at 8 p.m. Tanger Outlet Centers 1 and 2 in greater Bluffton will open at 10 p.m., the same as last year.

Target, Walmart and Kmart have not announced when they'll let shoppers in, but they opened at 8 or 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving last year.

Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods, meanwhile, are planning midnight openings, according to news releases.

All the stores will be open throughout the night and close at their regular times on Friday.

The evening openings mean more late-night, holiday hours for employees. But retailers say the allure of the shopping weekend is hard to resist as consumers put more emphasis on Black Friday sales, Beemer said.

Seven years ago, 62 percent of shoppers called the weekend after Thanksgiving the most important shopping time of the year, according to his firm's statistics.

Now, it's 91 percent, the group's research showed.

And the evidence indicates that opening on Thanksgiving pays off.

Last year, 50.2 percent of Americans bought something by 6:30 a.m. on Black Friday, according to the group.

Of that number, more than 40 percent purchased the items on Thursday evening, the group said.

At Tanger, business jumped when stores opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving last year instead of midnight on Black Friday, something it had done the previous seven years, said LaDonna Shamlou, the center's general manager.

"It was very successful," Shamlou said. "We saw a lot of people who came after they were done with their meals. Some of those people wouldn't want to shop late at night."

It went so well that Shamlou said she wouldn't count out opening even earlier in coming years, which would mean more hours for shoppers -- and employees.

Despite the money to be made on Black Friday, Beemer said the weekend creates a peak in revenue that hurts December sales.

"Last year, we had what I called Christmas hibernation," he said. "People hit the store on Thanksgiving, then wait until the last week of December to finish up shopping."

That's part of the reason why retail forecasters predict a listless holiday season overall.

The National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend an average of about $738, or around 2 percent less than last year's per-person spending.

"Things are going to be lousy," said Beemer. "Cotton prices are up, while retail is barely growing. Retail will have to go up a half percentage point just to beat inflation."

Still, companies find opening on Thanksgiving worth it.

JCPenney has never opened before midnight on Black Friday.

The company, though, suffered a disastrous holiday season last year, losing $552 million and eventually firing CEO Ron Johnson.

Now it's joining the pack and opening early -- a risk it hopes will pay off.

"Obviously, we were one of the last to open (last year)," JCPenney executive vice president Tony Bartlett told CBS News. But this year, he says, "We're all in."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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