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More stores open on Thanksgiving, but most steer clear of dinner hour

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story named only one of the two firms that produced the outlook for this year's holiday shopping season. That report was prepared by the firms Strategy& and PwC U.S. The story below has been revised to reflect the correct information. Clients who used this story are asked to run the correction that can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Holiday shopping continued its steady creep into Thanksgiving Day this year, but retailers still appear reluctant to ring the Black Friday opening bell before the holiday dinner bell.

Except for Kmart, which proudly boasts of its “distinct 20-year tradition” of opening early Thanksgiving Day, and RadioShack, which announced plans this year to open at 8 a.m., most retailers seem to be holding off on the doorbuster deals until 5 p.m. or later.

RadioShack quickly backtracked on its plan to be open from 8 a.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving, saying it would close its stores from noon to 5 p.m. to avoid “potential issues with personal scheduling.”

And some retailers are still steadfastly refusing to hold Black Friday sales before Friday.

Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist for Strategy&, said it is all part of this year’s “interesting dynamic in holiday shopping.” Stores have to test when to open, when to start online sales and how to balance promotions with profit, in “an economy where every dollar counts,” he said.

A report on this year’s holiday shopping season by Strategy& and PwC U.S. estimates that as much as one-fifth of all holiday shopping could come on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving, so named because it’s the day that can put retailers’ ledgers in the black for the year.

Retailers are well aware of that, but Kmart and its Thanksgiving-morning opening was long the exception – most stores were content to start holiday sales on Friday morning. That changed when the recession hit.

Toys R Us was one of the first to shift store hours toward Thanksgiving when it announced in 2009 that it would open right after midnight. This year, the toy retailer will open its stores at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

A Toys R Us spokeswoman attributed the shift to the “overwhelmingly positive” response from shoppers, adding that extended hours help spread crowds out over the long weekend.

Nearly a dozen stores have since followed Toys R Us’ lead, with RadioShack this year deciding to make the leap to a morning opening.

“Given the customer demand for store hours on Thanksgiving last year, we made the decision to open on Thanksgiving,” RadioShack spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said in a Nov. 10 statement. “It gives us the opportunity to stay competitive.”

But two days later, the electronics chain sent out the revised holiday hours, with the noon to 5 p.m. closing window. RadioShack attributed the change to feedback it received after the initial announcement.

It did not specify where that feedback came from, but officials with the group Boycott Black Thursday noted that the change came after they added RadioShack to their boycott list.

A boycott of any Thursday shopping just seems like the right thing to do for shoppers like David Plummer.

The Phoenix resident said he will “refuse to patronize the businesses that have chosen to abuse their staff with being open on Thursday,” because he does not want to reward the “incessant greed” of such retailers.

Travis Dent, who owns the website Black Friday Death Count, is not a particular fan of the shopping frenzy, either. But he said he can also see how the additional shopping hours could be a benefit to shopper safety.

His website tracks the number of deaths and injuries that have been attributed to Black Friday shopping, most of which have been driving-related.

“With less emphasis on catching big deals immediately after consuming a tryptophan-rich meal, we should expect to see fewer driving-related incidents,” Dent said in an email. “Allocating more time-space for Black Friday shopping should benefit consumer safety.”

The shopping report by Strategy& and PwC ound that “shoppers are clear about what they will spend their holiday dollars on,” and that brick-and-mortar stores must compete with the 71 percent of shoppers who will look for better deals from online retailers.

Despite protests and threatened boycotts, Blischok says that as long as retailers respect Thanksgiving dinner they should see “a slight increase” in sales this year by opening Thursday.

“People that are going to shop Thursday are going to shop Thursday,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sources in the Public Insight Network informed the reporting in this story through a partnership with the Cronkite PIN Bureau. To learn more or share your story, click here.