Wake up! It's time to shop

At 12:01 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, retailers want you to bring yourself -- and your wallet -- to their stores

November 12, 2006|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Sun reporter

Diehard shoppers now have a Midnight Madness to call their own, and it comes just a few hours after Thanksgiving dinner.

Across the country, more malls and retailers plan to open their doors just minutes into the Friday after Thanksgiving to get an even earlier jump on the traditional start of holiday shopping season. The events - named after the midnight games and parties that kick off the basketball season at many colleges - are designed to lure shoppers in the pre-dawn Friday hours before many competitors even open their doors at 5 a.m. or so.

It's a strategy that is gaining momentum with retailers as they try to grab the attention of shoppers who have more choices than ever at both bricks-and-mortar stores and on the Internet. Some malls and retailers have experimented with midnight opening during past years, and the success is prompting more of them to expand it this season.

The day after Thanksgiving has long been synonymous with early openings, overnight waits in long lines and fights over the likes of Tickle Me Elmo dolls. Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy often advertise steep discounts on laptops, DVD players and other popular electronics to lure crowds

to arrive early that day.

And each year, retailers have tried to inch the madness of the season's start a little earlier.

Those who didn't follow suit paid a price. Some shopping center owners said they lost customers to competitors with earlier hours. Too many people were shopping early at the big retailers for sharp discounts and then going home to take a nap just as the malls were opening their doors.

"Last year, most of the malls suffered because they didn't open until 8 or 9 in the morning," said Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. "Most people are done with their shopping by then. They get up to get a deal, and they're done with their day by 8 or 9 a.m."

Baltimore-based Prime Retail Inc. will open 12 of its outlet malls at midnight, including those in Queenstown and Hagerstown in Maryland, where deals will be offered at such places as the Gap Outlet and Banana Republic Factory Store. The company has experimented with midnight openings in other markets for several years. The openings in Maryland will take place for the first time this year.

Tanger Outlet malls, KB Toys and Chelsea Property Group malls, including the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets in Northern Virginia, also are among the retailers with midnight openings.

"We want to make sure they have the opportunity to come to Prime outlets and spend their money before they spend it somewhere else," said Paula Rowland, chief marketing officer for Prime Retail Inc. "All the retailers are out there competing for the shopping dollar that people have for the holidays, and we want to win."

It is unclear how much the earlier openings affect total industry sales for the season. KB Toys, which plans to open 75 stores at midnight this year, up from nine in 2005, said it's a boost to sales at least for that day.

"Most stores that were open at midnight last year had a more positive day compared to the year before when they opened regular hours," said Ernie Speranza, chief marketing officer for the toy company.

The challenge for retailers that opt for midnight starts is to keep the momentum going through what turns into a 21-hour shopping day.

"The midnight-to-1 a.m. time frame might be successful," said Jay McIntosh, director of retail and consumer products at Ernst & Young. "It's hard to see where the 3-to-5 a.m. works."

Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving, so named because it can boost ledgers from red ink to profitable black - is the traditional kickoff to the holiday season. And although it's not the busiest day of the season anymore - the Saturday before Christmas usually wins that distinction - about 60 million people shopped on Black Friday last year, according to BigResearch, which tracks shopping trends.

Many of the malls turn the day into an event with live bands and special promotions. Some have partnered with local hotels so shoppers can spend the night. The Prime Retail outlet in Hagerstown will have a pajama jam: People who shop in their nightwear will get a goody bag, some with $100 gift cards.

"It's almost starting to become a family or girls' night out," said Rowland of Prime Retail. "Something you do after you eat turkey. For some people, it's become like a party."

Not every store in the shopping centers that open participates in the midnight events. For example, Meghan Kozur, a manager at Kasper Outlet Store at Prime Retail in Queenstown, said the apparel center will open at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving rather than at midnight. She said it was a corporate decision made for staffing reasons.

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