The big debate this year among big-box retailers is not whether they will open on Thanksgiving but whether they keep their stores open all night.
On one side is Target, which said Monday it will join Best Buy and Macy's, which have closed their stores in the overnight hours in recent years. They have found less payoff in staying open during the wee hours when traffic dwindles now that their stores are open earlier on Thanksgiving evening.
On the other side is Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Toys 'R' Us, which are sticking with their open all-night hours this year as they have done the last several years.
Staffing during the overnight hours may not be worth it not only because the stores can be dead but also because consumers can now access most of those same deals online at any hour of the day, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
"Staying open all night is not very economical," he said. "If you're not getting the sales, it's not worth it. It also shows that Black Friday is not as important as it once was."
The retailers who continue to pull all-nighters are trying to hang onto every sale they can amid a difficult retail environment, Saunders said. Those retailers also tend to be inching their store opening times on Thanksgiving an hour earlier this year.
"Some of the ones who are struggling are doing that," he said. "They are desperate to get people into the stores and to get people spending."
Toys 'R' Us, which said Monday it will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and won't close until the following night, recently filed for bankruptcy.
"By staying open for 30 straight hours [through 11 p.m. on Friday], it allows customers to choose when they would most prefer to shop with us — and we do see customers come in at all hours during Black Friday," Taylor O'Donnell, a Toys 'R' Us spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.
J.C. Penney — which is opening its stores at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year — has struggled with its turnaround this year, and its shares recently hit an all-time low.
"We want to be the first stop for shoppers on Black Friday, and given the overwhelming positive response we've had the past two years opening our stores at 3 p.m., we decided to open one hour earlier this year to give our customers even more time to shop our Black Friday sale in-store," Joey Thomas, a J.C. Penney spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Kohl's will open its stores at 5 p.m. on the holiday, also an hour earlier than last year. Walmart has not yet said when its in-store sales will start that day but many of its stores are already open 24 hours a day, including on Thanksgiving.
Target will still open its stores on Thanksgiving at 6 p.m. this year as it has done every year since 2014. But in a change from the last several years, it will close its stores at midnight when traffic typically wanes and reopen them at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.
"Our hours for this year ensure we're ready with great deals for those guests who want to shop following their Thanksgiving dinner, while also giving our teams a chance to recharge and prepare our stores before we open on Friday to greet guests with even more holiday savings," Janna Potts, Target's chief stores officer, said in a statement.
Richfield-based Best Buy, which often sees a big rush when stores open, has been following a similar strategy for the last few years, opening at 5 p.m., then closing at 1 a.m. and reopening at 8 a.m. Friday. The electronics chain has not yet announced its in-store hours for Thanksgiving this year.
Most shopping malls in the Twin Cities have also pared back their hours in recent years. The overnight hours made more sense, they note, when stores were opening at 9 p.m. or midnight instead of 5 or 6 p.m.
The Mall of America and Burnsville Center have gone one step further and will not open at all on Thanksgiving for the second year in a row. Other retailers such as Nordstrom, Home Depot and Costco, which don't offer big Black Friday doorbuster deals, also don't open on the holiday.
In many cases, consumers no longer have to wait until Thanksgiving to shop all the Black Friday deals. Stores have been dangling some discounts early. Target offered some Black Friday promotions in stores and online on Monday. It will also give its Redcard holders early access to more than 100 Black Friday deals on the day before Thanksgiving.
J.C. Penney will start offering its Black Friday sale prices online starting the Sunday before Thanksgiving. And Kohl's said it will offer deals online leading up to Black Friday starting the Monday of that week.