Great Mall Milpitas Black Friday

Great Mall Milpitas Black Friday:

It's the retail equivalent of a nuclear arms race: Macy's is starting its post-Thanksgiving sale at 5 a.m. Friday, so J.C. Penney and Kohl's plan to unlock their doors at 4.

Officials at the Great Mall in Milpitas believe they can top that by offering special discounts at stores that will open at midnight tonight. But why wait until then? While some businesses will be closed for the holiday, executives at Kmart, Old Navy and the Sports Authority chain are convinced customers would rather skip washing up the dishes today and visit their stores instead.

After years of hyping day-after-Thanksgiving discounts and seeing shoppers turn out in droves as a result, big retailers now are vying to outdo one another by racing to open earlier than the guys down the street. Experts say the trend probably doesn't increase overall sales, but many retailers view it as a necessary part of competition, especially in a difficult economy.

"The original motivating factor was momentum: If I can get you to shop in my store before you go somewhere else, then I've got a better chance of getting your dollars," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the NPD research firm. "And we all know there's a limited share of dollars this year."

Opening early is also a publicity gimmick, according to retail marketing expert Eugene Muscat, who called it a "strategic move" by brick-and-mortar store executives who have seen the shopping public -- and news media

-- turn their attention from reports on "Black Friday" promotions to features about shopping online.

"Everybody is saying, 'Look at me.' This is exactly what marketing people get paid to do," said Muscat, a business professor at the University of San Francisco.

Still, does anyone really want to shop in the middle of the night? Not retiree Regina Andrews, who was resting on a bench after shopping at the Great Mall on Tuesday afternoon. "You can't even enjoy your Thanksgiving if you're thinking about going out shopping at midnight," she insisted.

Evidently some people can. Great Mall spokeswoman Cristina Robles said visitors filled the mall's 6,800 parking spaces at 12:30 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving last year.

"It's a social event. People come with their friends in groups. We had all ages, people with strollers and babies," said Robles, who added that the crowds had dwindled by 3 a.m.

Post-Thanksgiving shopping took a tragic turn at one Walmart in New York last year, when frenzied shoppers knocked over a security guard and unwittingly trampled him to death. The retailing giant said it has taken steps to prevent a recurrence. Walmart says most of its stores will be open all night tonight, so there won't be unruly crowds waiting outside, although special sale prices don't take effect until 5 a.m. Friday.

The Disney Store chain is also opening more than 125 outlets at midnight, including one at Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose, in part to minimize the prospect of too many customers crowding store aisles all at once. Other Disney stores will open at 4 a.m., and a few -- although none in the Bay Area -- will open at 9 p.m. tonight.

"By opening early, we actually spread our traffic through the day, and we think that creates a better shopping experience for our guests," said Disney Store President Jim Fielding.

The term "Black Friday" started with reports that day-after-Thanksgiving sales helped change retailers' accounting from red ink to profitable black. Fielding, however, said the term "Black Friday" sounds too somber. "We're trying to call it Magical Friday. We think it's the most exciting day in retail and we want our guests to have fun."

Like other retailers, Fielding would not disclose sales figures from last year, when the chain opened stores at midnight for the first time. But, he added, "I think we can say that if it hadn't been profitable, we wouldn't have repeated it."

Business experts say early openings and huge discounts tend to be the province of big chains and malls, since small independent stores don't draw enough traffic to make up for the cost of such promotions. Kathy Grannis of the National Retail Federation said the little guys tend to focus on customer service and repeat business instead.

A survey sponsored by Grannis' organization found one in 10 Americans who plan to shop Friday said they would hit stores at midnight tonight. Three out of 10 said they would start hunting for bargains at 4 a.m.

"I'm about to do it. You've got to try to be one of the first people at the stores on Friday, or there won't be anything left," said Vince Reza, a San Jose City College student who was strolling the Great Mall with a friend Tuesday.

Last year, Reza said, he awoke before dawn and headed for Walmart with his mother, father and other relatives in tow. "You know it's going to be packed," he added, "so you want to beat the crowd."

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022.

black friday shopping tips:

PLAN AHEAD by checking store ads and Web sites to figure out what"s on sale and where you need to go. Experienced shoppers say it increases your chance of getting the bargains you want, before others snap them up.

THINK ABOUT the features you want, particularly when it comes to computers or electronics. A rock-bottom price on an electronic book reader or mini-notebook computer may not make up for software that"s outdated or incompatible with other products.

SHOP TOGETHER with relatives or friends, so you can divide your lists, split up at the store, and cover more ground.

GUARD INFORMATION by shielding bank cards or checkbook while making a purchase, so scam artists can"t look over your shoulder and steal your account numbers or other identifying data.

HIDE PACKAGES and other purchases by locking them in the trunk of your car, or dropping them off at home. Don"t leave them in plain sight for thieves who do their shopping in store parking lots.

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