NEW YORK — Put down that turkey leg. It's time to shop. No, really.
Stores typically open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving that's named Black Friday because that's when stores traditionally turn a profit for the year. But Black Friday openings have crept earlier and earlier over the past few years.
Now, stores from Target to Toys R Us are opening their doors on Thanksgiving evening, hoping Americans will be willing to shop soon after they finish their pumpkin pie.
Target Corp. is opening its doors at 9 p.m. on the holiday, three hours earlier than last year. Sears, which didn't open on Thanksgiving last year, is opening at 8 p.m. on Thursday through 10 p.m. on Black Friday. And Toys R Us will be opening at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year.
Retailers are hoping that the Thanksgiving openings will draw shoppers who prefer to head to stores after their turkey dinner rather than braving the crowds early the next morning. Overall, about 17 percent of shoppers plan to take advantage of Thanksgiving hours, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs survey of 1,000 consumers.
Michael Prothero, 19, and his friend, Kenny Fullenlove, 20, were willing to miss Thanksgiving dinner for deals. They started camping out outside a Best Buy store in Toledo, Ohio, on Monday night, waiting to get 40-inch televisions, videogames and a tablet computer. They came early to make sure they got the deals advertised by Best Buy, even though the next person in line didn't arrive until almost 24 hours later.
"Better safe than sorry," said Prothero, who says missing Thanksgiving dinner with his family is worth it to get deals.
The Thanksgiving hours are an effort by stores to make shopping more convenient for Americans, who still face economic uncertainty. Many shoppers are worried about high unemployment and a package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect in January unless Congress passes a budget deal by then. At the same time, Americans have grown more comfortable shopping on websites such as Amazon.com, where they can get cheaper prices and buy from the comfort of their home or office cubicle.
That has put pressure on brick-and-mortar stores, who can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the two-month holiday shopping season, to compete. That's becoming more difficult: the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, estimates that overall sales in November and December will rise 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion, or about flat with last year's growth. But the online part of that is expected to rise 15 percent to $68.4 billion, according to Forrester Research.
As a result, brick-and-mortar retailers are trying everything they can to lure consumers into stores by making shopping as easy as possible. In addition to expanding their hours into Thanksgiving, many are offering free layaways and shipping, matching the cheaper prices of online rivals and updating their mobile shopping apps with more information.
"Every retailer wants to beat everyone else," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a research firm based in Charleston, S.C. "Shoppers love it."
But not everyone likes the idea of Turkey Day shopping. Some retailers that are opening on Thanksgiving face criticism from workers who complain that the holiday should be a time for everyone to spend with their family.
A New York-based union-backed group of retail workers called Retail Action Project is planning protests in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Thanksgiving in front of several stores, including AnnTaylor, Forever 21 and others that are opening at midnight on Black Friday and earlier.
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