Black Friday creep has finally hit a wall.

Some big-box stores first started encroaching on Thanksgiving Day in 2010. Since then, more have joined the groundswell and every year inched forward their store opening times an hour or two earlier in order to keep up with their competitors. But this year, that progression has come to a standstill.

On Tuesday, Richfield-based Best Buy Co. Inc. said it will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, the same time as it did last year. In doing so, it will be among the earliest of big-box stores to open that day, joined by Toys 'R' Us.

Then at 6 p.m., Target, Macy's, and Kohl's, among others, will swing open their doors, also at the same time they did last year. Wal-Mart is expected to announce its hours later this week.

"It's been somewhat of a surprise we haven't seen more creep into Thanksgiving Day, and hopefully it will stay that way," said Ken Perkins, president of firm Retail Metrics. "I thought retailers would continue to push the envelope and end up where Kmart is, which is open all day."

Retailers likely judged that opening earlier probably would not attract more shoppers.

"When you push it earlier than 5 o'clock, you're pushing it into dinnertime for most Americans and the crowds are not going to be as robust," he said.

On top of that, with the growing importance of round-the-clock online shopping, retailers can still capture sales without their stores having to be physically open.

While stores won't open earlier this year, that hasn't stopped them from offering Black Friday deals earlier in the season. Best Buy, Target and Kohl's are among those who offered early Black Friday deals in one or two-day sales this week.

"Some have started Black Friday deals as early as November 1," said Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst with the NPD Group. "It's on. In case you didn't know it, the holidays have started."

The early sales diminish some of the allure of Black Friday itself. While it's been decreasing in importance as a central focus during the holiday shopping season, it is still expected to be the top shopping day of this year in terms of sales and traffic, according to the firm ShopperTrak.

While most of the stores that open on Thanksgiving will stay open all night, Best Buy will once again buck that trend as it did last year and close its stores at 1 a.m., when traffic begins to wane, and then reopen at 8 a.m. on the actual Black Friday.

"Closing in the middle of the night also allows us to get our stores cleaned up and organized again for Friday morning," said Jeff Shelman, a Best Buy spokesman.

The one major outlier this year so far has been J.C. Penney, which announced this week that it will open at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year. Analysts said though that is more of a reflection of the desperation from the struggling department store chain to reverse sagging sales.

And then there are those stores that have decided to change course from last year and not open on Thanksgiving at all this year. That list includes the clothing chain H&M and office-products supplier Staples. Analysts note those retailers aren't known as holiday shopping destinations and don't offer the same deep discounts or "doorbuster" deals for which Black Friday is known.

"Why open on Thursday if you're not going to be busy? You might as well stay closed," Cohen said. "Why not turn it into a PR opportunity?"

Outdoor retailer REI did that with Black Friday itself, generating a lot of attention several weeks ago by declaring it wouldn't open that day and would encourage its employees to do something outside instead.

This is expected to be a decent, but not blockbuster holiday shopping season for retailers who depend on these two months for a large portion of their sales. The National Retail Federation has forecast holiday sales to increase 3.7 percent this year, slightly below the 4.1 percent growth rate that stores experienced last year.

Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113