"Over the years, the day has become bigger and more important," said Andy Stein, Kmart's interim chief marketing officer. "We've evolved from being open for last-minute Thanksgiving dinner needs like tin foil and gravy to doing door-busters at 6 a.m."
Retailers say last year's earlier openings drew a younger crowd of shoppers who prefer to stay up late rather than wake up early to snag deep discounts. Nearly one-fourth of consumers who shopped during the holiday weekend were at stores at midnight on Black Friday, up from 3 percent in 2009, according to the National Retail Federation.
"Stores are tapping into something that is very real — there is demand for this," said Adam Hanft, a brand strategist for Hanft Projects in New York. "The reality is, people start to get cabin fever after a while. They're fighting about politics. They want to get out and do something."
The intrusion into Thanksgiving comes as retailers try to offset yet another expected year of tepid holiday sales. Overall holiday sales, which typically account for 40 percent of retailers' annual revenue, are forecast to grow 4.1 percent this year, down from 5.6 percent a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation.
In their quest for sales, stores are looking for new ways to bring in consumers. And they won't be satisfied with just one visit.
Wal-Mart and Target are staggering their Black Friday promotions, launching sales of coveted products such as iPads at specific times in hopes that shoppers will return again and again to get the lowest prices. Wal-Mart will release different deals at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and again at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Target, Kmart and Sears have similar plans.
"If [customers] want to go home, we'd love to have them come back at 5 a.m. the next morning," Duncan Mac Naughton, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising and marketing officer, said in a conference call last week.