For the first time, BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. and CompUSA Inc. opened their doors on Thanksgiving, while online retailer Amazon.com offered special holiday discounts.
In the past, grocery retailers and 24-hour convenience stores like 7-Eleven Inc. were the only shopping options on Thanksgiving. Holiday gift shoppers turned to the Web or saved their breath for the next day, "Black Friday," which is considered the official kickoff to the shopping season.
"Some retailers are trying to find a way to take advantage of the fact that once dinner is over, many families are looking for some kind of entertainment," said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman at National Retail Federation, a trade group.
BJ's opened from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., while electronics retailer CompUSA Inc. opened from 9 p.m. to midnight, where state laws permit stores to be open on the holiday.
"People start kicking off their holiday shopping early," said BJ's spokeswoman Stephanie LaCroix, who expected good sales of consumer electronics such as LCD televisions, computers and iPods.
Almost 1,400 Kmart stores, owned by Sears Holdings Corp., would be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., offering buy-one-get-one free deals on board games and a Polaroid digital camera for less than $100, among other deals, said spokeswoman Gail Lavielle.
Nichelle Thompson, 36, of Los Angeles and her 14-yer old son Justin arrived just before the opening of a Los Angeles Kmart to take advantage of a one-day sale and pick up a $54 combination DVD player and VCR.
Thompson said she decided to start her Thanksgiving with a trip to the store after seeing the player advertised in a newspaper ad. The machine is a family gift.
"Tomorrow they'll have a whole new ad. Now I have to go through and circle all the things that I want to buy tomorrow and send my husband out."
More than 2,000 24-hour Wal-Mart supercenters were open on the holiday.
"I don't have to do all the cooking, or I would not here," said Ruth Redman, 42, a stay-at-home mother of five as she browsed for bargain clothing at a Supercenter in Gates, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. She said she'll probably stay home on Black Friday, especially during the early-morning onslaught.
"At one point, when I was younger, I might have been willing to brave the crowds but no anymore," Redman said. "There are wonderful deals but it's not worth the headaches."
At a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Fla., John Newland, 41, bought some Christmas presents for wife and two young children, 6 and 4.
"I got out here right around 8 o'clock or so to get a little Christmas shopping done. There's hardly anybody in there, no lines. It was nice in there actually. Good shopping."
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. revealed some "top secret" Black Friday deals on its Web site Thursday, including a 52-inch TV set for $474 and an inflatable six-foot snow globe for $80.
7-Eleven, meanwhile, offered gift cards for Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes, Circuit City Stores Inc., Blockbuster Inc., Borders Group Inc., DVDs, and toys, among other gift items.
As for online opportunities, Sears, Roebuck and Co. again allowed holiday shoppers to pay for Black Friday deals on their Web site on Thanksgiving, such as 20 percent off Kenmore appliances and 50 percent off certain Craftsman-branded tools. Customers can then pick up their purchases when stores open the following the day, or have them shipped, said Lavielle.
Online retailer Amazon.com was also pushing for shoppers to get started a day early by holding an ongoing poll to select one steeply discounted gift item to be offered in limited supplies beginning on Thanksgiving day, on top of other deals.
The winner of the poll was Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 video game system for $100, which was set to go on sale at 2 p.m. EST, beating out a Mongoose Domain Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike for $30.
"We're always open on Thanksgiving," noted spokesman Craig Berman.
"Online retailers are making Thanksgiving a huge priority, because they have no competition from stores," said Davis. "I think we're going to see that trend increasing."