Special deals and shopping treks in the wee hours of the morning have always been part of Black Friday tradition, but this year some stores are opening even earlier than last year.
Walmart plans to kick off three special sales events on Black Friday eve, starting at 8 p.m. Thursday. The three one-hour events are set for 8 and 10 p.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Friday.
The one-hour events all have special pricing on certain items that will be available while supplies last. In addition, according to a corporate news release, there are three electronics items available at 10 p.m. that are guaranteed to be in stock for the one-hour sale.
Other stores are also on the early-opening bandwagon, including Logan Valley Mall.
The response from customers last year to midnight openings at other stores, including Target, Kohl's and Macy's, prompted the mall to open at midnight on Black Friday this year.
Group Marketing Director Joy Weidel said that while mall stores are not required to open at midnight - JCPenney, for instance, is waiting until 6 a.m. - that stores are being encouraged to do so.
"This year it's being promoted" for the first time, she said.
JCPenney store manager Bill Crouse said all JCPenney locations are opening later this year as part of an initiative by the company's new CEO, Ron Johnson.
"Last year we opened at around 3 a.m., so this is a big change for us," said Crouse.
There are other changes as well.
Starting Feb. 1, Johnson announced a new store strategy called fair and square, which promised a low price for customers every day without the need for coupons and sales. But, Crouse said, Black Friday is a special shopping day and items throughout the store will be discounted.
Crouse also promised a new "exciting promotion" that will be launching storewide that day and will continue through the Christmas season.
Other stores are pushing their opening times forward. Among them is Sears, which Weidel said will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Last year it opened at 4 a.m.
According to Target's website, the store also plans to open its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, allowing customers to shop with special Black Friday prices in effect from Thanksgiving night through Saturday.
Sales under wraps
As far as special sales planned, JCPenney has a 48-page sale booklet preview on its website that shows which items are to be on sale, while Macy's offers a 20-page sale booklet along with many 20-percent-off coupons.
Kohl's Store Manager Jeff Matthews said the store will open at midnight on Black Friday and remain open until midnight the next morning. Specials are to be announced this weekend in a flier.
He also said that regular early bird specials will be in effect from the store's opening until 1 p.m.
Many stores have similar rules, with local store managers unable to disclose sale information until corporate offices are contacted.
Customers may line up
The International Council of Shopping Centers has predicted a 3 percent sales increase for the November-December period. In addition, in a survey completed by the council in conjunction with Goldman Sachs, 19 percent of people surveyed said they plan to spend more and 5 percent said they plan to spend significantly more than they did last year.
The council said this is the highest percentage of consumers reporting that they intend to increase spending over last year's holiday season since they began asking the question in 2004.
The survey also found that gift cards, apparel, toys and video games are at the top of shoppers' lists, while gift cards, electronic gadgets, CDs, DVDs and e-books are heading possible recipients' wish lists.
Best Buy Sales Supervisor Corey Henderson said that the store at Logan Town Centre, which will be opening at midnight on Black Friday, has been preparing for Black Friday by installing extra shelves and informing workers about doorbusters.
Henderson said that store directors "try their best to send us as much as possible" but, with large crowds anticipated, products are not guaranteed to be in stock.
However, Henderson said, free shipping will be available throughout the day, so even if customers can't find what they want in the store, they can get it anyway.