Retailers are betting that Thanksgiving Day shopping will become a new holiday tradition. Consumer expert Robert Harrison isn't so sure.
"The jury's still out as to how the early opening times are going to affect folks and their Thanksgiving celebration," said Harrison, marketing professor at Western Michigan University, who studies consumer behavior.
He's asked that question already and gets two opposite answers:
— Thanksgiving is toast. If the stores are open, I'll be there.
"For a lot of them, they don't see this as intruding on their Thanksgiving celebration because Thanksgiving is about family, and everyone in the family is there shopping," he said.
— This is ridiculous. When will we celebrate Thanksgiving?
"The fact that they're opening earlier and earlier on Thursday is where you're going to see some of the backlash," said Harrison, who will be out investigating shopping behavior this weekend.
Peter Gill, spokesman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the Thanksgiving openings will appeal to shoppers who don't want to have to wake up at 2 a.m. on Black Friday to get the doorbuster deals. Rhonda Lash, manager at Macy's in Champaign, expects sales to peak between 8 p.m. and 1 or 2 a.m.
Shopping on Thanksgiving can be a fun activity with sisters or friends, like taking a walk after dinner, Gill said. And some people can't shop on Black Friday because they have to work, he said.
"People say 'You're ruining the holiday,' but for some people, it can be a lot of fun to get out," he said. "The retailers know there's interest, so they're responding in kind."
University of Illinois business Professor Aric Rindfleisch, who studies brand relationships, sees Thanksgiving Day shoppers differently from bargain-driven Black Friday veterans.
"I can imagine you would have folks shopping with their relatives, as an alternative to going to a movie," he said. He also expects more browsing and impulse buying Thursday night.
What about those who have to work?
A Wal-Mart executive was quoted earlier this month as saying that workers were "really excited to work that day" for the extra pay, and other retailers agreed.
"I find that hard to believe," Harrison said. "Unless you're on commission, I don't know that this is going to be the most exciting day of your retail experience."
Unions are again planning short strikes at Wal-Mart stores across the country on Black Friday, according to the organization OUR Walmart, founded by the Food and Commercial Workers union.
A no-shopping pledge circulating on Facebook says, "If I'm shopping, someone else is working and NOT spending time with their family. Everyone deserves a holiday."
Lash said Macy's took employee preferences into account when it drew up holiday work schedules. Nationally, more than 60 percent of associates elected to work the Thursday-night shift, and some were turned down because the slots were full, she said.
"If you're in this business, you understand your family traditions will change," said Lash, who plans an early Thanksgiving dinner so she can nap before heading to work.
Christina SanAntonio of Monticello won't be there.
"People need to spend time with their families on that day," said SanAntonio, who works for the Illinois Family Violence Prevention Council. "I would never shop on Thanksgiving. I just feel like we need to keep the holidays special. Something has to set them apart from the other days."