Down Your Turkey, Hit The Mall?

Terri Gary of Westland, Mich., center, shops for some thanksgiving holiday supplies with her daughter Kiyah Calvin at a Meijer store in Allen Park, Mich., Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007. Feeling squeezed by gas prices and weak credit, the nation's shoppers are increasingly trading down to lower-price stores or cheaper items. AP Photo/Gary Malerba

The nation's retailers want shoppers to spend less time eating turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving and more time shopping - whether it's online or on land.

For the second year in a row, CompUSA Inc. and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. are opening their doors on Thanksgiving. The exception are stores in Massachusetts where local laws preclude holiday hours. CompUSA also added an extra incentive for consumers this year by providing pumpkin pie for those in line.

Iconic toy store FAO Schwarz - with locations in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas - is set to open its doors on the holiday as well.

In the past, holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day was limited to discount stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart, as well as grocery retailers and 24-hour convenience stores like 7-Eleven Inc.

With America's armies of turkey-fed shoppers feeling squeezed by weak credit, higher mortgages and gas prices, the big-name stores may need every free-pie gimmick they can dream up to compete with the discount sellers.

That $3.20 latte at Starbucks or the $300 handbag at Coach may no longer be affordable luxuries.

Such changes - which emerged this past summer and surfaced in the latest financial results for retailers - could alter dynamics of the holiday shopping season as it officially kicks off on Friday… or Thursday, if the T-Day shopping craze catches on.

For some shoppers, it could be as drastic as buying all their clothes at discounters instead of department stores. For others, it could be as subtle as buying a wallet instead of a handbag or one latte per week at a fancy coffee shop and deli coffee on the other days.

The trend could benefit discounters, warehouse clubs and drug stores while hurting department stores and mall-based apparel chains. Even Starbucks Inc. reported its first decline in traffic on record at its U.S. stores.

"People are so cash- and credit-concerned," said retail consultant Burt Flickinger III, noting that he hasn't seen "the trading down" phenomenon since the 1987 stock market crash resulted in massive job losses and the housing slump in the early 1990s.

All retailers - discount or not - will be watching with interest to see how many shoppers can be lured out of their turkey-induced daze to take advantage of the Thanksgiving day hours offered by an increasing number of stores.

"Some people just can't wait until Friday," said Kirsten Whipple, a Sears spokeswoman. "Thanksgiving dinner is done and they have moved on."

Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said the Thanksgiving openings may be a way of generating early enthusiasm ahead of a holiday season that's widely expected to be sluggish. Still, she said, no matter how stiff the competition is, for those new in the game, opening on Thanksgiving is still considered a tough decision when weighing employee time off and other factors.

"I think at this point Thanksgiving is still very revered in the retail industry," Davis said. "A lot of retailers just don't want to touch Thursday."

Web shopping is a different matter. More retailers are pushing shoppers to buy online on Thanksgiving, instead of just researching deals for Black Friday, named because it was traditionally when stores became profitable.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which last year offered one or two online specials on Thanksgiving, is offering specials on 20 to 30 products on its Web site. CompUSA.com is featuring one-day, online-only sales on Thanksgiving - on products including computers, LCD flat-panel TVs and portable DVD players - and free shipping on certain items.

Amazon.com Inc. held a poll to allow visitors to vote for items they want to see drastically discounted beginning Thursday. The Web site also is offering shipping incentives and other deals spanning the weekend.

Toys "R" Us' site and eToys.com are both featuring a slew of online specials just for Thanksgiving. Toysrus.com is featuring up to 65 percent savings on everything from Matchbox cars to Spider-Man 3 interactive figures, while eToys.com is offering up to 60 percent off on select items.
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