NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -
Snooze after that Thanksgiving meal and you could lose out on the juicy deals that some retailers will offer to shoppers as early as midnight on Thursday.
"Are the midnight openings much earlier than usual for Black Friday? Yes, they are," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with NPD Group, a market research firm. "Does this show that retailers are more nervous this year? Absolutely."
Industry observers said store chains are particularly anxious about how the 2005 holiday season will shape up, given the spikes in gas prices over the summer and consumer concerns about inflated home heating bills this winter, and an apparent slowdown in the real estate market. (Full story).
With all the uncertainty, it's not surprising that stores are eager to jump-start their holiday sales and they're upping the ante in a bid to become more competitive and win a bigger chunk of crucial holiday dollars.
The November-December selling period can account for half or more of a retailer's annual sales and profits sales.
Some malls, such as The Shops at Las Americas in San Diego, Carolina Plaza Mall in North Carolina, Valley Plaza in Bakersfield, Calif., and the Riverchase Galleria Mall in Birmingham, Ala., will open doors at midnight or shortly thereafter.
Banana Republic, Gap Outlet, Old Navy Outlet, Aeropostale, Polo Ralph Lauren and Skechers are among the nine stores at the Las Americas mall that will kick off their Black Friday business at midnight.
"Last year a couple of stores opened at midnight and due to the incredible shopper response other retailers are joining them this year," Las Americas general manager Michael Liberatore said in a statement.
The Disney stores in the Riverchase Galleria mall and the Carolina Place mall will greet shoppers at 1 a.m.
"The typical 5 a.m. openings aren't good enough because every retailer does that on Black Friday," Cohen said. "This has become a game of who can top this. Everyone wants to start first. It's very clear that the early bird catches the worm for consumers. So retailers are trying to catch the early consumer."
"It's getting to a point where Black Friday will become a 24-hour affair or even start on Thanksgiving day," he added. To his point, a report in USA Today on Wednesday said discounter Kmart would open stores from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Wally Brewster, spokesman for the second-largest mall operator General Growth Properties (Research), said the midnight shopping events are a result of consumers demanding discounts on hot holiday items as soon as possible.
"Hot items sell out fast every year. Our shoppers have said they want to get to stores earlier. By opening our malls so early, we want to provide them the ability to shop not just at one or two retailers but at a variety of stores before the rest of the world wakes up," Brewster said.
General Growth operates Carolina Plaza, Valley Plaza and Riverchase Galleria.
Kurt Barnard, a retail industry expert and publisher of the Barnard Retail Trend report, also noted the increased level of anxiety among retailers this year versus 2004.
"Every retailer wants to be the first kid on the block," he said. "This is a very harrowing time for retailers because they don't know how the holiday season will play out. Gas prices at the pump have come down but then General Motors announced that it will let 30,000 people go come January."
"Retailers know that for a lot of consumers, this is a time of uncertainty about their jobs," Barnard added. "This will make them frugal with their holiday shopping and they will be on the hunt for the best deals out there."
To read more about retailers and shoppers gearing up for Black Friday, click here.
For great last-minute gift ideas and tips on tipping, check out our Holiday Money special.