Updated March 28 at 6:28pm

Black Friday draws millions in early start for holiday shopping


NEW YORK - Target Corp. took some flak for opening stores on Thanksgiving because doing so would give employees less celebrating time with their families. Still, the earlier start attracted more parents and their kids.

“Earlier is more convenient to get out after the Thanksgiving dinners,” said Bryan Everett, senior vice president of Target stores. More families meant more purchases of clothes and home goods too as shoppers spent more time browsing than a year ago, he said.

Target pushed its openings to 9 p.m. from midnight last year as millions visited stores for the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. With consumers facing a sluggish economy and the threat of tax increases that may result if Washington doesn’t avert the so-called fiscal cliff, this weekend will serve as a barometer of what’s to come for retailers in the next five weeks. One early sign is that online sales rose 17 percent yesterday, according to IBM Benchmark.

To get shoppers to spend more than last year, retailers have continued to turn Black Friday, originally a one-day event after Thanksgiving, into a week’s worth of deals and discounts. A couple of years ago chains started opening at midnight and yesterday Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys “R” Us Inc. pushed it to 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Other chains began offering Black Friday deals online as early as last weekend.

“It’s very busy,” Macy’s Inc. CEO Terry Lundgren said in a phone interview. Lundgren greeted shoppers as they entered the chain’s flagship location in Manhattan that had a line of 11,000 people waiting for its midnight opening, an increase from last year.

Shares gain

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index gained 0.7 percent at 11:51 a.m. in New York, marking its fifth straight increase. The measure had gained 27 percent this year through Nov. 21.

Shrugging off the threat of protests at its stores by a group backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, Wal-Mart said it had larger crowds than last year and racked up 10 million transactions yesterday, including 1.3 million televisions and 250,000 bicycles.

The protesting groups, OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, had vowed to mount 1,000 actions online and at stores this week through Black Friday to publicize what they said are the retailer’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to keep people from working full time and discrimination against women and minorities. Wal-Mart said in a statement today that 26 protests took place last night and fewer than 50 employees participated.

How much expanding Black Friday actually boosts sales remains to be seen. Some industry analysts say it shifts sales earlier in the season rather than increasing demand. That was the case last year for several chains, including Target.

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