Marie Fleites has been planning her Thanksgiving since Halloween — not so much the feasting as the shopping. This year, she’s moving up the family celebration from evening to lunchtime so she can pile her nieces in the car and meet her friends at Aventura Mall when it opens at 6 p.m.
“They tell me every year that I’m crazy,” said Fleites, 50, of Westchester. “I love it. I love seeing everybody going nuts in the mall.”
For many, the Thanksgiving meal is no longer a leisurely day-and-night-long reverie but a tummy-filling prelude to bargain hunting. That shift — and the increasingly early shopping hours that have provoked it — has sparked a backlash from consumers who decry the materialism and distraction from family time.
“We’re forgetting our values,” said Maria Figueras, 62, who lives in Southwest Miami-Dade. “We’re forgetting humanity.”
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Across South Florida, many stores and malls are opening earlier than ever this Thanksgiving. Walmart and K-Mart are open all day. BrandsMart U.S.A., hhgregg and Old Navy will open at 4 p.m.; JCPenney, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us and Stein Mart will swing open their doors at 5 p.m. And at 6 p.m., Target, Macy’s and most every mall — including Dadeland, the Falls, Miami International Mall, Dolphin Mall, Aventura Mall and Sawgrass Mills — will welcome the masses. That’s two hours earlier than last year.
Other malls and retailers have opted out of the Thanksgiving scramble, giving their employees the time off. Instead, they will wait to open early on Black Friday, the formerly traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. That list includes Bal Harbour Shops, the Village of Merrick Park, TJMaxx, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
Shopper Leslie King is among those holding out for Friday. “I am a shopaholic, and to hear me say I’m not going Thursday, it’s really bad,” said King, 41, of Sunrise. “The sales don’t warrant it and I don’t like the idea of someone not being able to spend time with their family. It should be one day where everything is just shut down.”
Both those who love and those who loathe Thanksgiving Day shopping have already faced retail temptation. Unlike past years, many sellers started holiday sales even early this year. Stores like J. Crew, the Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, Ann Taylor and Staples launched wide-ranging sales earlier this week, offering discounts as high as 50 percent. hhGregg started a “Black Friday Now” promotion, offering up to 40 percent off storewide for 10 days that began last Thursday. Staples kicked off two weeks of Black Friday deals Nov.16.
In recent days, emails have flooded inboxes, offering online discounts from Amazon.com, Kohls.com, SportsAuthority.com and more, way ahead of Black Friday.
“It’s good for consumers,” said Florida Retail Federation President and Chief Executive Rick McAllister. “A lot of consumers try to pay for Christmas out of cash flow, so they need to spread it out. So early discounts are really good for them.”
Amazon.com is among those cashing in on the early shopping craze, with sales that started Nov.21 and feature new deals daily for eight days. Amazon said it plans to offer three “Deals of the Day,” starting at midnight on Thanksgiving, as well as three more deals on Black Friday, in addition to thousands of limited-time “Lightning Deals.”
The hoopla points to what retailers predict will be a relatively robust shopping season spurred by an improving economy, rising stock market, job growth and lower gas prices. Nationwide, the National Retail Federation projects that sales in November and December will be up 4.1 percent from last year, to $616.9billion.
In Florida, the forecast is even brighter: sales are expected to jump 5 percent, buoyed by tourists and seasonal residents, the Florida Retail Federation said. That’s above last year’s 4.5 percent prediction and would be the biggest increase since 2008.
“The Sunshine State has a real advantage when it compares to other folks,” McAllister said.
At Aventura Mall this week, tourists abounded. Juliano Carneiro and fiance Luciana Oliveira, of Manaus, Brazil, carried bags piled high with toys, clothing, watches and sunglasses as holiday gifts for their families.
“We came to Miami to shop,” said Oliveira, 34, recounting seven hours spent traipsing through the mall. “Prices are 50 percent off” compared to home, she said, with “more stores and more options.”
To appeal to harried shoppers, malls are also boosting their amenities. Aventura has a new Citi Lounge, featuring a gift wrapping station, coffee bar, Citi branded ATM and phone charging stations. Sawgrass Mills is offering a complimentary bag storage service in the center of the mall and a bus connecting shoppers to each of the mall’s main entrances in Sunrise.
To be sure, November through the holidays is a critical time for retailers, generating as much as 40 percent of stores’ annual revenues. And this coming weekend is key: 61 percent of respondents in a National Retail Federation “Thanksgiving Weekend Expectations” survey said they will or might shop on either Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. That equates to more than 140.1 million shoppers nationwide.
This year, the average person celebrating the holidays is expected to spend $804.42, up nearly 5 percent over last year’s actual $767.27, the NRF found.
Meanwhile, an increasing share of shoppers are turning to the Internet for purchases. In Florida, 50 percent of the people surveyed said they would do some of their shopping online this year. “That is a staggering number to me,” McAllister said.
To capture those buyers, stores like Walmart are boosting online offerings. Walmart.com is kicking off its “Cyber week” on Saturday, with 500 online specials every day through Dec. 5, on electronics, toys, apparel, home décor and more.
“This year we’re offering a much broader set of deals,” said Fernando Madeira, president and chief executive officer of Walmart.com U.S. “We’ve more than doubled the number of Cyber Monday specials.”
Overall, McAllister predicts that gift cards again will be the No.1 item purchased, with electronics, toys, apparel and jewelry also top sellers. Disney’s Frozen merchandise is expected to lead toy sales, with mainstays like Barbie and LEGO still big draws.
But not everyone is excited about the shopping season. Dianne Blitstein Solomon of Coral Springs will be boycotting stores and online shopping all weekend. She’s protesting that her cousin has to start work at a South Florida mall beginning at 3p.m. on Thanksgiving, so the whole family has to eat early and cut short their festivities.
“Race, race, race, gobble, gobble, gobble, and go home,” she said. “Why, so someone can go out and buy something they can’t buy yesterday or tomorrow? I find it unconscionably horrible.”
This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.
SHOPPING KICKS OFF:
Here’s when stores will be open (some will stay open through the night, until late Friday):
All day Thursday: Walmart.
6 a.m. Thursday: Kmart.
4 p.m. Thursday: BrandsMart U.S.A., hhgregg and Old Navy.
5 p.m. Thursday: JCPenney, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us and Stein Mart.
6 p.m. Thursday: Best Buy, Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s, Sears, Staples; Aventura Mall, Dadeland Mall, Miami International Mall, Dolphin Mall, Sawgrass Mills and the Falls.
7 a.m. Friday: Blooomingdale’s, Florida Keys Outlet Center.
8 a.m. Friday: Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus.
9 a.m. Friday: Bal Harbour Shops, Village of Merrick Park, Shops at Sunset Place.
SHOP FROM HOME:
Amazon.com, Target.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, Sears.com, Kohls.com, ToysRUs.com, JCrew.com, JuicyCouture.com, Saksoff5th.com, Saturday.com, BananaRepublic.com, Madewell.com, TrinaTurk.com, Express.com and BathandBodyWorks.com are among the many sites already offering online discounts.
Check aggregators: blackfriday.gottadeal.com/Tracker, findnsave.com, MiamiHerald.com, blackfridayads.com, 2014blackfridayads.com, bfads.net.
Use your smartphone: Download apps that aggregate deals, including Black Friday App by DealNews.com, Black Friday 2014 Ads App, TGI Black Friday App, Black Friday by FatWallet.com, BFAds, Black Friday Shopping by Reinvent Lifestyle, GeoQpons - Black Friday, Black Friday by BradsDeals, Coupons App by Shopular.
—INA PAIVA CORDLE