The furious competition among retailers to one-up each other with bigger and earlier Black Friday sales may turn Thanksgiving dinner into a quick turkey sandwich.
While the holiday shopping season traditionally kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, the push to sell holiday presents is moving earlier and earlier. Now big retailers have laid claim to Thanksgiving evening and some Bay Area malls are opening at midnight for the first time, leaving some to wonder if the traditional family holiday will disappear as more consumers are lured by big discounts and aggressive retail advertising.
"The level of promotion has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger around Black Friday," said Jonathan Marek, senior vice president of Applied Predictive Technology and a retail consultant. "Their sales are really under a microscope, and there's this never-ending pressure."
Hours after the presidential election results were in and campaign ads ceased, retailers took to the airwaves to announce earlier-than-ever Black Friday openings. Walmart, Toys R Us and Sears will open at 8 p.m. Thursday, with Target following at 9 p.m. Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara and Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton will open their doors at midnight for the first time.
For years, retailers have commandeered the space between Thanksgiving and New Year's with advertisements and elaborate promotions. But as Black Friday sales begin to interrupt
"Looking 10 years down the road, maybe we'll say, there used to be this nice holiday," said Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University. "Thanksgiving will have disappeared."
Black Friday's Thanksgiving creep is a symptom of an increasingly competitive retail market; the newest tactic in the battle among retailers to get the first bite of consumer holiday spending. Even the most resistant consumer may be no match for retail's savvy marketing, which pumps messages through social media and mobile technology, and the hard-hitting competition that has spawned some of the biggest deals in Black Friday history.
Target, for instance, is promoting $100 savings on LCD TVs and Best Buy has laptops running Windows 8 for under $350. Some stores are doing multiple ''doorbusters," such as Sears, which will open with huge discounts at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and then have another round of massive sales at 4 a.m. Friday.
While crowds are sure to show up, some consumers object to retail's intrusion on a family holiday. "I'm so frustrated that stores are taking the fun out of it by opening so early," Denise Florio posted on the Mercury News Facebook page. "Retail workers are headed into such a busy time, couldn't they just give workers one day off? I'll still go but not until Friday."
Added Michael Mendoza: "Thanksgiving Day is that by itself -- spend time with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. I refuse to head to the stores to do bargain shopping on the evening of Thanksgiving."
But big bargains are a powerful draw. Just peek back one year ago -- Walmart's announcement of a 10 p.m. Thanksgiving opening was met with outrage, but the early opening resulted in huge sales and helped propel that year's overall Black Friday spending to a record high. At that time, retail experts were betting on an even earlier opening in 2012.
And when Macy's opened last year at midnight for the first time, it welcomed a deluge of eager customers -- and others in the business noticed, such as Carrie Williams of Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton.
"Just being here and seeing the huge volume of customers and the demand really opened our eyes," said Williams, the shopping center's director of marketing and business development.
She said Macy's success inspired the mall's midnight opening this year: "It's not something these retailers would be doing if they didn't see the demand."
Brad Wilson, founder and editor-in-chief of BradsDeals.com, which posts Black Friday coupons and leaks sales information, says that rationale is "patently absurd."
"This is a very important game for the retailers, " Wilson said. "Despite the claims that they're opening on Thursday because that's what customers are asking for, it's what works best for them."
In a survey of 9,400 California consumers, one-third responded that they planned to shop Black Friday weekend, according to consumer research group BIGinsight and the National Retail Federation. Nationally, the number of shoppers who turned out for Black Friday increased more than 50 percent from 2007 to 2011.
San Jose State student Matthew Wright is likely to be one of those shoppers. It doesn't matter that the junior business major is short on cash after paying tuition; he has his sights set on Nordstrom Rack, Hugo Boss and Express.
"Anything with clothing in it, I'll be there," he said.
Die-hard shoppers like Wright may persuade retailers to push Black Friday earlier and earlier, until one year perhaps shoppers can hit sales before the turkey is out of the oven.
"It appears this is the new norm," said Stoneridge's Williams. "I can't see it going back to a later opening any time soon."
Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.