Regrettably, Black Thursday is here to stay

I’m going to make the call.

Black Friday is now Black Thursday.

Last year, several major retailers announced they were going to open at various times on Thanksgiving Day. One retailer called the decision historic. Depressing, I thought.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, had traditionally been the time for kicking off the Christmas shopping season. Over the years, the day turned into pre-dawn craziness. You’ve no doubt seen the news stories of people lining up in the wee hours of Friday morning to get door-buster deals. Or you may have stood in the lines yourself.

But opening at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. wasn’t good enough. The Black Friday opening hour was pushed even earlier — to midnight in some cases.

This year, Wal-Mart will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. That’s two hours earlier than last year. Toys R Us and Sears are also opening at 8 p.m. Kmart is opening at 6 a.m. But I suppose to take some of the pressure off shoppers afraid they’ll miss out on a sale and workers who want to have dinner with their families, the retailer will close at 4 p.m. Kmart will reopen at 8 p.m. and stay open until 3 a.m., close again and reopen on Black Friday at 5 a.m.

When responding to one survey, only a small percentage of consumers said they would shop on Thanksgiving. Among Black Friday shoppers, 6 percent said they plan on starting their holiday shopping on the holiday, according to a survey conducted for Offers.com.

This is a trend that won’t hold if retailers continue making it too tempting for penny pinchers to stay at home. One of the reasons people rushed to get to stores on Black Friday is because it used to be that the best deals were often available in limited quantities. This too is changing.

Wal-Mart is guaranteeing customers that if they are inside the store and in line between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day they can purchase the following electronics at special low prices:

•An Apple iPad 2 (16GB with Wi-Fi) for $399, plus you get a $75 Wal-Mart Gift Card.

An Emerson 32-inch LCD TV for $148.

An LG Blu-ray player for $38.

The retailer says if any of these items sell out before 11 p.m., it will offer a “Guarantee Card” for the item, which must be paid for by midnight and registered online. The product will then be shipped to the store where it was purchased for the customer to pick up before Christmas. I expect other retailers to follow with similar rain-check type guarantees.

Many customers and workers have complained about Thanksgiving Day shopping. Online petitions developed to discourage the trend. I have also tried to persuade people not to shop on Thanksgiving Day. I pleaded with them to stay home and spend time with their families. I advocated for the workers who would have to leave their families to serve shoppers.

My advocacy was a lost cause. It’s pointless when our economy thrives on consumer spending. And some folks don’t mind working on Thanksgiving because they’re grateful to have a job and earn the extra pay.

I hope you know that you don’t really need to rush out on Thanksgiving or the following day as if this is the only time to get the best deals. Last year, Consumer Reports and Decide.com, a website that tracks electronics products and pricing, found in an analysis that despite the hype, Black Friday wasn’t necessarily the best time to get the lowest prices. More than a quarter of the recommended TVs and cameras were at least 5 percent cheaper between Cyber Monday (dedicated to online shopping) and Dec. 13.

Consumer Reports notes that the competition for your business is so tough, especially in this economy, that you will have plenty of time to get price breaks. So there’s no need to panic.

Nonetheless, consumers have proved time after time that there are no boundaries for their addiction to shopping for sales. If the stores open, they will come. Because they come, the stores will continue to open.

I still think that Black Thursday turning into the new Black Friday is a turkey of an idea. But I’m resigned to the fact it’s a trend that is here to stay.

Michelle Singletary: singletarym@washpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

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