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Midnight at the mall
Eager to steal each other's Black Friday sales, more malls are planning to open their doors as Thanksgiving ends.
By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Load up on A LOT of coffee after that holiday turkey because many more malls are promising to kick off the big holiday sales at the stroke of midnight as Thanksgiving becomes Black Friday.

Some mall and outlet operators experimented with the super-early openings last year, and the success will breed even more in 2006.

Many more malls and outlet centers will open to bargain-hungery shoppers at the stroke of midnight on Black Friday.

Mall operators say the typical 5 a.m. store openings on Black Friday just aren't good enough anymore for anxious bargain hunters.

Many store chains chalk up more than half their annual sales and profits in November and December alone, hence the term "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally marks the season when stores start moving into the black, or profitability.

It's one of the busiest shopping days of the year, second usually to the Saturday before Christmas.

Therefore, retailers try to lure gift-shoppers to their stores through storewide sales and some "doorbuster deals" that offer sharp discounts on must-have items.

Chelsea Property Group, a division of No. 1 mall developer Simon Property Group (up $0.11 to $94.34, Charts), last year tested midnight openings, code named "Midnight Madness" at eight locations, including its Woodbury Common outlet center northwest of New York City.

Chelsea operates 42 outdoor outlet centers across the country with retail tenants that range from teen clothiers Aeropostale (Charts) and Pacific Sunwear (Charts) to mid-priced sellers such as Banana Republic, J. Crew, (Charts) and high-end merchants such as Chanel and Burberry.

"We didn't want to bite off more than we could chew," said Michele Rothstein, senior vice president of marketing with Chelsea Property Group.

To open or not to open?

The company did not mandate that all of its stores at those 8 locations open at midnight. "We gave the retailers the choice of opening their doors early and about 50 percent did," Rothstein said.

Did it work? "I never get thank you calls from merchants but I did last year. We've already gotten calls from more retailers saying they want to do it again this year," she said.

So the company has expanded its Black Friday "Midnight Madness" event to 25 locations this year.

"We had a very strong response from consumers last year. Consumers are the boss and we're responding to their demands." said Rothstein.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with NPD Group, a market research firm, thinks retailers are being smart by wanting to get consumers into their stores at midnight.

"No doubt, it's a much better play to have consumers wandering in your store that early instead of waiting outside for a few hours until the store opens at 5 a.m. so that they're first to grab the hot sales," Cohen said. "The advantage of having people in your store is that you don't lose those two to three hours of sales."

Another outlet mall developer, Tanger Outlet Centers (Charts), will run its "Moonlight Madness" midnight event at eight of its 35 centers, according to general manager Janine Nebons.

Nebons said the company decided to take the step for "competitive reasons" and has asked all of its retail tenants at those eight locations to open at midnight.

"Woodbury Common opened at midnight last year and it was very successful," she said.

"We usually open our centers at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Even then we would have a few hundred people waiting outside," she said. "Why not open earlier and let retailers do the same?"

Who's working that night?

Staffing is key to a successful midnight start to the holiday shopping season, Cohen said. "It works if retailers get the staff to manage the checkout and inventory management."

However, there could be a few challenges as well.

For instance, Cohen cautioned that retailers can shoot themselves in the foot by taking some of the day's momentum too early.

"Retailers have to make sure that they keep shoppers coming throughout the day and over the weekend. So they need to spread out the momentum and not blow out the doorbuster sales too early," he said.

Tanger's Nebons said she's confident retailers will spread out the sales. If anything, she's hopeful that the midnight start will help bring down the traffic congestion that usually envelops shopping centers on Black Friday.

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