Black Friday Came Early

Forget Black Friday. This year, the holiday shopping season began on Thursday.

Big-name retailers opened their doors to holiday shoppers early this year. Target (NYSE: TGT  ) opened stores at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Thursday, three hours earlier than last year, while competitors such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) and Sears (Nasdaq: SHLD  ) also welcomed eager shoppers before Friday even arrived.

With the holiday season historically a big boost to retailer revenues, big-box stores are looking to top last year's record sales on Black Friday 2011, which beat 2010's sales by more than 9%, according to the National Retail Federation. With consumer confidence at its highest point in five years, retailers may have hoped earlier openings on Thursday could draw in even larger hauls.

Target had touted its Thursday sales as something shoppers wanted:"We heard from our guests that they look forward to kicking off their holiday shopping with deal-hunting on Thanksgiving night. Opening at 9 p.m. gives Target's Black Friday guests a more convenient way to create an after-dinner shopping event that the entire family can enjoy."

Online sales have surged in recent years on the appeal of shopping flexibility, with "Cyber Monday" -- the Monday after Thanksgiving -- getting as much press as Black Friday. While the National Retail Federation expects brick-and-mortar sales to increase 4.1% this holiday season, Forrester Research expects online sales during the period to jump 15%.

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