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Stores creating Thanksgiving dine-and-dash dilemma

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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Susan Kovac of North Huntingdon shops at J.C. Penney's in Monroeville Mall on Nov. 21, 2014.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
At the Walmart in North Fayette, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, zone manager Olando Brown assists customer Geri Martin, of Burgettstown, with her choices in the toy section.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
At the Walmart in North Fayette, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, customer Ron LaBach, of North Fayette, left, receives assistance in choosing a television from store manager Karen Kallam and zone manager, Olando Brown.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
At the Walmart in North Fayette, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, zone managers Olando Brown, left, and Chris Dziobak arrange items that will go on sale the evening of Thanksgiving.
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Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
At the Walmart in North Fayette, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, store manager Karen Kallam looks over Apple's iPad mini, one of the electronic items that will be on sale. Gift certificates may be offered along with the purchase of the iPad mini, as Apple won't allow prices to fall below a set minimum.
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Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Joe Sheffler and his son, Jared, 18, of Monroeville shop at Best Buy in Monroeville on Nov. 21, 2014.

Thanksgiving is a day that brings Susan Kovac’s family together for fellowship and a feast at her home.

Kovac, of North Huntingdon, prepares most of the holiday meal, for which her husband, three adult children, two grandchildren and other friends and family gather around the dinner table for their annual tradition.

What is not tradition is people leaving early to go holiday shopping, which is what some retailers are expecting consumers to do as more are opening on Thanksgiving in what is being called “Black Friday creep.”

Shopping-related early exits by guests on Thanksgiving would be met with disdain, Kovac said.

“Then, I would not be cooking the next year,” she said, jokingly while at Monroeville Mall on Friday.

Most stores will be open this Thanksgiving, and they are opening earlier on the holiday than they ever have in American business history, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director at New York-based retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

The trend could affect family traditions — and cause hurt feelings — but the expectation of deep savings can be a big draw, retail experts said.

A sense of urgency

Shoppers typically won’t spend more money because they have an extra day of holiday shopping, even if they take advantage of the “doorbuster” sales — they just spread out the same amount of money they were going to spend in brick-and-mortar stores over four days instead of three, Flickinger said.

Still, retailers extend their hours to stay competitive with other stores that open on the holiday, and they are trying to retain shoppers who are going to online retailers, experts said.

JCPenney, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Toys“R”Us will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Target, Kohl’s, Sears and many other retailers will open at 6 p.m.

Kmart will have a marathon run of 6 a.m. Thanksgiving to midnight Friday. Some Wal-Mart stores will open at noon or earlier if they are not normally open 24 hours, but deals will start at 6 p.m.

Malls are getting in on the action, too, with most local malls opening at 6 p.m. Not only will Clearview Mall in Butler open at 6 p.m., but it will require most of its tenants to be open at that time or face fines.

There is a demand for Thanksgiving shopping, retailers said.

“JCPenney opened on Thanksgiving for the first time ever last year, and the response from customers was overwhelmingly positive,” said Joey Thomas, spokesman for Plano, Texas-based JCPenney Co. Inc.

Last year, Target stores opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and “saw benefit of opening earlier, with many families coming out to shop and record crowds across the country,” said Meghan Cushing, spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Target Corp.

‘Caught up in the frenzy’

Retailers develop a sense of urgency around Black Friday — and now Thanksgiving — with sales that expire at certain times or by limiting the number of hot-ticket items they sell, said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of American in Washington.

Retailers could run the risk of receiving backlash from consumers who are sympathetic to employees who have to work on the holiday and upset about their own loss of family time if the best sales are only available on Thanksgiving, said Jeff Inman, a marketing professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“If I can go later and I can still get the deals, it’s not as major of a concern. But if I have to choose between my family and economic savings on a limited budget, that’s a concern,” Inman said.

The number of people who plan to shop on Thanksgiving this year has declined from the number who planned to do so last year — from 25.6 million to 23.5 million — according to a survey from the Washington-based National Retail Federation.

A minority of shoppers feel they are getting the best prices on items during the retail rush, Gillis said.

“The speculation on our part is the majority of people are caught up in the frenzy and it’s sort of become an event,” he said.

There is good news in that more retailers are extending their sales over several days, Gillis said.

Wal-Mart will spread sales over five days; offer one-hour guarantees that allow customers to pre-pay for items that have sold out but receive the items at a later date; and distribute wristbands to customers that they can use to pick up certain items within a two-hour period, which will decrease wait times in lines, said Karen Kallam, manager of a Wal-Mart in North Fayette.

Renee Kurnock, 61, of Carnegie plans to hit Wal-Mart and other stores with her daughter-in-law on Thanksgiving to shop for her two grandchildren, she said Thursday at Wal-Mart in North Fayette.

“We’ll be out to get the good deals, especially the toys,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or [email protected].

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