Amy Phillips will be skipping Black Friday.
Last year, the stay-at-home mom of two from Raleigh was among the throngs at Walmart at 3 a.m. to score her son a Nintendo DS.
But this year, she said, the sales have been so plentiful in the weeks and months leading up to Black Friday she doesn't need to venture out.
"It used to be you didn't get the ads until Thanksgiving morning and nothing was on sale before then. Now, there are so many sales all the time," said Phillips, 37, who estimated she has 75 percent of her shopping already completed.
Phillips' shopping habits this year are reflective of the changing landscape of holiday retail. What was once a one-day shopping sprint - it got its name because it helped many retailers cross into the black for the year - is now a months-long retailing marathon.
Add to that the ever-increasing number of consumers who are purchasing gifts online, and Black Friday's significance is being called into question.
"The importance of Black Friday is being diluted," said Jeff Green, a retail analyst and president of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix. "The perception has been that Black Friday equals a bargain but that's not necessarily the case. The sales have already been as good as they'll be on Black Friday."
Black Friday is typically the biggest retail sales day of the year. But according to a holiday shopping survey by Accenture, the global marketing and technology firm, Friday's turnout could be the lowest in three years. Just 44 percent of consumers said they are likely to shop on Black Friday, compared with 47 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2009.
While no one is ready to pronounce Black Friday dead, Triangle shoppers planning Black Friday excursions just might notice the lines a little shorter, the crowds a little thinner and parking places a tad easier to snare.
Gone are the days when pretty much all the stores opened between 3 and 5 a.m., causing utter chaos in the shopping aisles and parking lots.
This year, many stores have announced midnight openings, including Macy's, Kohl's, Best Buy and Target.
Walmart, which stays open 24 hours anyway, will start its Friday sales at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, instead of midnight as it did last year. Toys R Us is opening its doors even earlier - at 9 p.m. Thursday.
That means fewer shoppers being spread out over a longer time span. Shoppers who are at Target at midnight, for instance, are unlikely to be in line for a 5 a.m. opening at A.C. Moore.
Personal spending up
The intrusion into Thanksgiving was the next logical step for retailers who are trying to get their share of the holiday shopping dollar in a difficult economy, explained Candace Corlett, a retail analyst and president of WSL Strategic Retail in New York.
The bottom-line predictions for this holiday season are mixed. Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $704, down from last year's $719, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey. But overall spending for November and December is expected to be up a modest 2.8 percent, when you add in purchases that shoppers expect to make for themselves.
Further, nearly two-thirds of shoppers said the uncertain economy would influence their holiday spending, with the vast majority of those shoppers saying they will spend less this year.
All the more reason for retailers to try to get shoppers in the door as early as possible, Corlett said.
"You have a finite number of people to buy for and once you finish with your list, you stop shopping, especially in this economy," Corlett said. "The earlier retailer gets the fuller cart."
Turkey, football, shop!
Some retail workers have complained about the retail creep into Thanksgiving Day. A Target employee in Nebraska started an online petition to ask the company to reconsider its midnight opening. A Best Buy employee in Florida started a similar petition.
While the petitions have several thousand signatures, they don't appear to be affecting too many shoppers. A survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers found that 16 percent of consumers will shop on Thanksgiving.
Corlett shakes off any notion of Black Friday intruding on Thanksgiving Day. "Given the opportunity to shop, many are finished with turkey and football and will be ready. A lot of people love to be in the Black Friday game."
Diane Savage, a mother of four boys from Wake Forest, is among those strategizing her Black Friday game plan.
Savage, 48, plans to be out at midnight in search of a deal on a tablet for her youngest son, who has special needs.
She and her three older sons will make the midnight run to Best Buy, Target and Kohl's with mugs of homemade hot cocoa to keep them warm.
Though she would happily make her purchases online, she said her sons insisted they continue their Black Friday shopping tradition.
"It's like a sport for them," she said. "They look forward to the whole event."