November 26, 2011 / 1:06 AM / in 6 years

Midnight Black Friday start likely to become norm

(Reuters) - Earlier than ever store openings at Macy’s Inc, Target Corp and Best Buy Inc this year were such hits with shoppers that their midnight start on Black Friday will likely become the norm.

Macy’s said about 10,000 people thronged its Manhattan flagship at midnight on Thursday, while a Best Buy store in Union, New Jersey, had people lined up for hours before.

Most retailers last year kicked off Black Friday at 4 a.m. But this year, some decided not to cede an inch of opportunity to rivals. And the strategy seems paid off.

“Now that we’re open at midnight, we’re getting an entirely different customer,” Macy’s Chief Executive Terry Lundgren told Reuters, speaking of night owl shoppers under age 30.

More traditional shoppers, who prefer to sleep off turkey dinner before hitting stores, came later in the morning as usual, Lundgren said, giving the chain two waves of customers.

The crowds at Macy‘s, Target, Best Buy and elsewhere mean midnight openings will be irresistible to more retailers.

“After seeing what I saw last night I can’t imagine that this is going to be a one year only shot,” said Charlie O‘Shea, senior retail analyst at Moody‘s.

Target employee Mark McAllister (R) holds the front door open for "Black Friday" shoppers at the midnight opening of the company's Northgate store in Seattle, Washington, November 25, 2011. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante

A major benefit is that it gives shoppers more choices.

“I did Black Friday at Target (in a prior year), I stood in line from 12:30 to 6 o’clock in the morning. I don’t have to do it this year,” said Desiree Schoolfield, a 49 year old public servant from Queens shopping at a Toys R Us in Manhattan Wednesday evening.

For the retailers, there are competitive considerations in what promises to be a tough holiday season.

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Soon after Macy’s announced it would move up its Black Friday opening to midnight, rival Kohl’s Corp followed. And it would be unthinkable for Best Buy to be closed while Target is open, and vice versa.

Still, some bucked the trend this year and suffered little if any consequence.

J.C. Penney Co Inc stuck to its 4 a.m. opening, with the only apparent effect of rivals’ earlier opening being a morning shopper traffic peak that came minutes earlier than last year, said Penney executive Mike Thielmann.

At 4:15 am on Friday, the parking lot at North Point Mall in suburban Atlanta, which has a Penney and Macy‘s, was 80 percent full, hours after 1,500 lined up for Macy’s opening, said general manager Nick Nicolosi. And the Penney at Newport Center in Jersey City, N.J., was packed in the early morning.

Still, analysts say it is just a matter of time before the competitive pressure prompts holdouts to open at midnight too, in a continuation of “store hour creep” that has seen Black Friday sales start earlier and earlier. Only a few years ago, a 6 a.m. start seemed outrageously early.

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