Fueled by a mix of caffeine from Starbucks and carbs from Bojangles, Carrie Roberson executes her Black Friday shopping strategy with military precision.
Up by 2 a.m., 3 a.m. at the latest, and the mission completed by 8 a.m. all but the unloading of the heavily discounted merchandise.
Missing out on the intoxicating mix of rock-bottom prices in the wee hours of the early morning is unthinkable to Roberson, a 25-year-old Raleigh resident and therapist.
I like the pushy shoppers. I like the coffee. I like getting in the car and feeling like Mario Andretti racing to the next deal.
Its pretty addictive, she unabashedly admits.
And yet, this year may be the first that Roberson breaks with tradition.
A flat-screen TV deal at Wal-Mart beckons. And the bargain can only be snagged on Thanksgiving evening.
Were going to have to put our thinking caps on and figure out what to do, Roberson said.
This year, the choices for holiday shoppers are more varied and plentiful than ever, and coming earlier than ever before with many of the major retailers bumping up last years 10 p.m. and midnight openings to as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
So whats a bargain shopper to do? Whats at stake for retailers? And why is Thanksgiving no longer sacred?
Heres a primer on all things Black Friday:
Whats all the fuss about Black Friday?
ShopperTrak, a firm that analyzes retail traffic and sales, predicts this Black Friday will be the holiday seasons top-performing day both for sales and the number of shoppers. The stakes are high. On Black Friday alone, ShopperTrak reported $11.4 billion in sales last year. This year is expected to be better.
As many as 147 million people nationwide are projected to hit the stores over the Black Friday weekend, according to a National Retail Federation survey.
And even with all the other shopping options available, 71 percent of consumers surveyed by PriceGrabber.com, still say they believe Black Friday weekend remains the best time to score the best deals during the holiday season.
Why are the major retailers infringing more and more on the Thanksgiving holiday?
Consumers have only themselves to blame, retailers and analysts say.
With the turkey eaten and the bricks-and-mortar stores closed, folks have gotten in the habit of settling in on their sofas with their laptops or tablets to shop. Online-only retailers were beating stores to the punch, said James Brown, PriceGrabber.coms director of merchant accounts.
Stores open on Thanksgiving will give those couch consumers an opportunity to touch the merchandise the old-fashioned way before purchasing, he said.
The bricks-and-mortar retailers, the local people who pay taxes and collect taxes and sponsor Little League teams, are competing against online sites open 24 hours a day, added Andy Ellen, president and general counsel of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.
A second factor remains the still-uncertain economy. Even with consumer confidence trending upward, retailers are wary of consumers maxing out their budgets and closing their wallets.
Its always a race, Brown said. The sooner you get into that wallet, the better, he said.
Is nothing sacred anymore?
While some employees who work in retail are protesting most notably unionized Walmart employees in some parts of the country the grumbling isnt likely to gain any real traction. See answers above.
And Ellen, whose organization represents 2,500 retailers in North Carolina, from mom-and-pops to chains, points out that many businesses have been open on Thanksgiving Day for years with no complaints from consumers.
Were not asking the restaurants, movie theaters and golf courses to shut down on Thanksgiving, he said.
At least one major retailer, however, is bucking the trend to open on Thanksgiving. J.C. Penney or JCP as it calls itself now will open its doors at 6 a.m. Friday, two hours later than last year. CEO Ron Johnson, who is trying to turn the struggling retailer around with every-day low pricing, free haircuts and free family portraits, sent an email to customers alerting them that Black Friday the retailers one sale of the year would indeed begin on Friday. Spending time with family is one of Americas greatest traditions. ... Im proud to honor this tradition by keeping our stores closed on this special day.
I detest crowds but love a deal. Should I skip the whole Black Friday mess?
Since opening times are so staggered from 8 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday shoppers shouldnt experience the utter mayhem in the parking lots and shopping aisles of Black Fridays past.
And Walmart, which set the trend for the earlier openings, has launched a new price guarantee this year on three hot products. No pushing or shoving required.
If other retailers follow suit next year, it just might bring more civility to Black Friday, which has become synonymous in some folks minds with unruly shoppers fighting and stampeding for deals, causing injury and in one tragic instance the death of a Walmart employee.
It takes away the fear of Black Friday for many, PriceGrabbers Brown said.
When should I start making my Black Friday shopping plans?
Take a page out of Robersons playbook and start strategizing now.
Make a list of what you want to purchase, then start looking for stores offering the best deals on those items and what time those stores open.
Many store circulars are already posted online. Check sites such as BFAds.net and BlackFriday.com. If you prefer to page through the circulars, youll find them in Thursdays newspaper.
Teamwork is essential, said Roberson, who shops with her pseudo-mother-in-law, also known as her boyfriends mother.
We sit down like Army soldiers and map out a route down to where in the store the sought-after item is located, and how long it will take to get in and get out. If necessary, one woman stays behind the wheel while the other runs in to make the purchase.
Just talking about Black Friday gets Roberson pumped up. Im just chomping at the bit, she said.