STEUBENVILLE - If you're planning on hitting the Black Friday sales, planning on leaving early. Several hours hours early, to be precise.
This year, some of America's biggest retailers are planning to open their doors to early bird bargain hunters on Thanksgiving night.
Wal-Mart, for instance, is kicking its holiday shopping season off at 8 p.m. Thursday with a special round of in-store specials. Two hours, later the retail giant will host a special electronics sale event, followed at midnight by its traditional storewide savings event.
"We're striking a balance between being competitive and meeting customer demand," Wal-Mart spokesman Molly Philhours said. "Last year, we started at 10 p.m., we had our highest customer traffic. According to the National Retail Federation, Thursday night shopping has surged over the last few years."
Kmart, meanwhile, will be open from 8 p.m. Thursday through 3 a.m. Friday, then reopen Black Friday hours with hours from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sears, its sister brand, will be open from 8 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday.
Both will offer deals on everything from apparel, toys, video game systems, flat screen TVs and other electronics to tools and a range of household items.
"The company made the decision based in part on feedback from its Shop Your Way members, who sought more flexible Black Friday in-store shopping times and eagerness to shop doorbuster deals," a spokesman said.
Ron Boire, executive vice president, chief merchandising officer and president, said Kmart stores have opened on Thanksgiving for the past 21 years, "serving as a destination for last-minute entertaining needs."
"We understand that many of our associates want to spend time with their families on the holiday, so Sears and Kmart will staff its stores with seasonal associates and those who have volunteered to work on Thanksgiving Day," he said.
Macy's, meanwhile, opens at midnight Thanksgiving night with "amazing markdowns, unbeatable deals and limited-time offers," the company said. Everything from remote control electronics, fragrances and kitchen appliances to clothing items, luggage and outerwear will be on sale.
The idea, Macy's Peter Sachse said, is to help consumers find the best deals.
"For the first time last year, Macy's stores nationwide opened at midnight and our customers loved getting a head start on their holiday shoppping," he said. "Based on their enthusiastic response, we plan to repeat it again this year."
Macy's also enhanced its mobile app to help consumers "identify and locate specials throughout each store on Black Friday." Customers who download the app can view the store's Black Friday specials on their mobile device, create personal shopping lists that they can edit and share with friends, and receive push notifications offering details on previously unadvertised specials specific to each Macy's location.
Philhours said the changes are customer driven: She said the shopping community told them they pull out their sales flyers as soon as the leftovers have been put away.
"The Christmas shopping season is huge in retail, it's the Super Bowl of retail," she said. "We're striking the balance between being competitive and the needs of our customers. We're very proud of our plans, we feel very well positioned to give our customers what they want."
Wal-Mart will roll out its attention-getters in stages - at 8 p.m. Thursday, for instance, in-demand video game systems and titles will be on sale, along with everything from electric scooters and battery-powered ride-on toys to some home appliances, DVD movies, air hockey tables and a trampoline. At 10 p.m., high-profile electronics, including flat screen TVs, laptop and Nikon cameras, headphones and mobile hotspots take center stage, and at 5 a.m. there'll be, among other things, more flat screens, notebook computers, smartphones, tires, toools and holiday items.
Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has also taken steps to avoid running out of what figures to be the most in-demand deals - an Apple iPad2 with WiFi, an Emerson 32-inch flat screen TV and an LG Blu-ray player. Customers who are in the line to purchase those items between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Thursday will get a guarantee card if they sell out before 11 p.m. Provided they pay for the item before midnight and register the sale online, it will be shipped to the store for them to pick up before Christmas.
"We bought very deep to make sure we have (enough)," Phillhours said.