Just a few years ago, 5 a.m. was the magic hour for Black Friday, when shoppers crowded into just-opened stores for doorbuster deals. Now, it's often a ghost town.
The Target in Hackensack, N.J., was quiet at that time, with no music playing and only a handful of shoppers wandering the aisles. Most of the full carts were pushed by employees reshelving items discarded during the initial rush when the store opened at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night. "Do you have any of the [$229] 50-inch TVs left?" one hopeful shopper asked.
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But those shelves were largely bare, with the doorbuster TVs long gone. (Latecomers would fare better with other doorbusters: Stacks of $19 Razor A scooters, regularly $35, and $99 SRT Viper ride-on cars, regularly $180, still lined the main aisle near the store's entrance.)
"I was expecting a line, and we got this. There's nobody here," said Kyle Reed of Dumont, N.J., who picked up a few doorbuster-sale DVDs, at prices ranging from $4 to $9.
Analysts say that's the new pattern, thanks to earlier store openings. The wide spread between the opening times forces shoppers to be strategic if they don't want to pull an all-nighter. Many head out early to grab doorbusters, go home and then come back out around 7 or 8 a.m. In between, "you're sort of in never-never land," said John D. Morris, senior retail analyst for BMO Capital.