As Black Friday weekend approaches, it's a 24-hour shopping world

Limited-time holiday deals on cookware, headphones, jewelry and more already are counting down on Amazon, and new offers crop up as often as every 10 minutes.

Toys "R" Us is promoting 11 days of savings starting Wednesday. Wal-Mart will stretch Black Friday into a five-day event with sales at different times at stores that never close, while dozens of area mall stores will sell their wares overnight on Thanksgiving.


And thanks to smartphones, a growing crop of mobile applications are comparing prices, alerting users to deals and directing shoppers to store aisles.

Heading into the holidays, retailers from Amazon to Wal-Mart are striving to keep consumers' attention longer and longer with extended hours, doorbuster sales, and mobile and Web offerings. For those with odd work hours — or who choose not to sleep — retailers will be ready and waiting, especially during the crucial months of November and December, which can account for 40 percent of annual sales.


"We're a 24-hour society, and people shop at all different times," said Cord Himelstein, a marketing vice president for business services firm Michael C. Fina, which advises retailers.

Arundel Mills in Hanover is one of several area malls letting retailers set overnight Thanksgiving hours if they choose. Macy's and JC Penney stores throughout the region will be up all night.

"As in the past when we've opened early [on Thanksgiving], we tend to have large groups waiting to get in," said Gene Condon, general manager of Arundel Mills, opening at 6 p.m. Thursday. "They want to be first in line to get the bargains. The extra hours clearly meet the needs that busy shoppers are looking for."

At Toys "R" Us, Thanksgiving weekend sales start online at 10 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a "cyber week" promotion with "hundreds" of daily discounts from Nov. 29 through Dec. 6, including a three-day focus on major brands such as Barbie, Fisher-Price and Lego. Black Friday "four-hour deals" will kick off at 5 p.m. Thursday on toys only available in stores.


Wal-Mart plans promotions over five days, with online specials starting early Thursday morning and product-specific doorbusters at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in stores on Thanksgiving and at 6 a.m. Friday. Anyone in an in-store line between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving is guaranteed certain sale items, while an 8 p.m. doorbuster focuses on electronics such as laptops, tables and TVs, while supplies last.

"We want to create an environment so that our customers really can shop how and when they want," said Molly Blakeman, a spokeswoman for the discount chain.

Mousumi Bose Godbole, an associate professor of marketing at Fairfield University in Connecticut who tracks consumer behavior, says the 24-hour shopping environment has evolved thanks to what she describes as a "cozy relationship" between retailer and shopper.

"The more the consumer wants, the retailer gives it, and the more they give, you see the consumer coming in and taking it up," Bose Godbole said.

At the holidays, some consumers seek the thrill of the deal and the rush of marathon shopping, she said.

"How many times can we shop in the middle of the night?" Bose Godbole said. "The whole shopping experience, people coming together. There is an emotional high to this shopping."

If it were up to her, Rainey Nicklas of Dundalk would stay home. But her son, 16, and daughter, 12, insist on midnight shopping on Thanksgiving, and it's become a family custom. They went to White Marsh Mall last year and are considering an outlet mall this year.

"The kids like it," Nicklas said. "This is all for them. They're the ones who shop. We do it every year."

Still, she won't shop on Thanksgiving itself.

"I don't agree with stores open all day," she said. "They should let the employees go home."

Himelstein also criticized that trend.

"I don't think anybody needs to go to a store to buy a cellphone or a television on Thanksgiving," he said.

Yet plenty will do just that.

Retail forecasts have called for holiday sales growth this year in a range of 3 percent to 5 percent, with per-shopper spending is expected to average $804, a 5 percent increase, according to the National Retail Federation

Other more recent spending reports have been slightly less optimistic, with the Consumer Federation of America reporting Monday that more consumers expect to spend less. The survey, which the group compiled with the Credit Union National Association, said 10 percent expect to spend more, while 33 percent expect to spend less.

"Many consumers continue to reflect significant concerns about their personal finances, most especially in the realm of weak income gains," Mike Schenk, a senior economist for the credit union association, said in the announcement. "We expect the increase in holiday spending this season to be modest."

Because the season will be so promotional, "retail revenue growth will be harder to come by," Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group Inc., wrote in a blog post Monday. "Retailers are trying to drive store momentum earlier, and they will need to be very savvy when it comes to managing their promotions."

He warned that retailers also need to use the Internet as a tool, not a replacement for the in-store experience, which helps drive impulse purchases. Many are trying to incorporate the use of mobile applications into the in-store experience.

"There's a realization that I have to take my physical space and seamlessly weave in a digital experience," said Doug Hope, founder of GlobalShop, which runs an annual retail design trade show for the industry.

Retailers are beginning to see opportunities in shoppers' smartphones, rather than viewing the use of mobile devices as competition. Coupon Sherpa, for instance, offers coupons based on the proximity to stores in a geographic locations, while a Target app points shoppers to aisles for specific items and SnapUp offers product sale alerts.

"Retailers are really noticing how many consumers are using their mobile devices, and they want to engage with them," said Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert who offers tips through website AndreaWoroch.com. "Retailers are … tapping into that mobile market to offer their own apps."

For some consumers, Web-based options provide essential convenience.

Mary Cathrine King, a stay-at-home mother of a 2-month-old in Towson, plans to wait until the coming Cyber Monday to start holiday shopping. She'll likely go to Target.com for baby toys, ski pants and other gifts.

"We don't want to stand in line with a baby," King said.

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