The "Black Thursday" backlash is growing louder as the hours tick down to Thanksgiving.
Critics of this year's early Black Friday store openings —which have pushed the annual shopping frenzy from the wee hours of Friday morning into Thanksgiving evening — have been airing their grievances. They argue the early opening times prevent retail employees from enjoying the holiday with their families.
But don't expect the complaints to deter retailers or shoppers. Many retailers have been opening earlier for years. Besides, you can always shop online on Thanksgiving day.
Employees of both Target and Wal-Mart have publicly criticized the Thanksgiving evening openings, and Change.org, a for-profit social change advocate, claims to have collected 350,000 signatures from people against Target's opening on 9 p.m., including some who have said they were Target shareholders. (Read More: Don't Let Thanksgiving Become 'Black Thursday':Target Employees)
"Target can keep repeating the line about customers wanting to shop on Thanksgiving all it wants," said Casey St. Clair, a Target employee who was quoted in a press release issued by Change.org. "The fact remains that 350,000 shoppers have signed my Change.org petition, and they're all saying the same thing: Thanksgiving should be about family, not shopping. Black Friday is one thing; turning Thanksgiving from a family holiday into a consumer spectacle is another."
Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder confirmed the discount retailer had received the petitions from the group, but that the store "looks forward to welcoming shoppers at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening."
"Target's opening time was carefully evaluated with our guests, team and the business in mind," Target's Snyder said. "Across the country, team member preferences were considered in creating our store staffing schedules. Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest of the year, and we appreciate our Target team's flexibility on this weekend and throughout the holiday season."
According to Snyder, only one third of the Target sales staff will be working on Thanksgiving night, and those employees will be receiving time-and-half, plus extra holiday incentive pay, for their work.
Meanwhile, some Wal-Mart employees continue to talk about walking off the job at hundreds of stores on Friday, the day that had traditionally been known as the start of the holiday shopping season. Late last week, Wal-Mart filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to stop a group called OUR Walmart, which is comprised of current and former Wal-Mart workers, from holding protests. (Read More: Protest Backed by Union Get Wal-Mart's Attention)
Federal Labor officials said Monday they will make a decision on the request quickly.
Not Alone in Opening Early
Although Target and Wal-Mart have received the lion's share of the attention for their early openings, the two discount chains are hardly the only retailers making such a move. Both Kmart and Meijer ave long been opened on Thanksgiving Day. Meijer will have so-called doorbuster deals — deep discounts on limited quantities of merchandise — for shoppers who arrive at their store at 6 a.m. on either Thursday or Friday.
Stores in Tanger Outlets ill open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and Sears and Toys 'R Us ill begin their doorbuster deals at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving as well. Many malls are opening at midnight.
Although not all the stores will be open, look for a party atmosphere at stores that cater to teens such as Aeropostale, American Eagle and Buckle, which will welcome the late-night crowds. As was the case last year, teens are expected to turn out at malls for bargains and to socialize with friends.
The bottom line is the holiday season is competitive, and no one wants to be left behind. And this year, there may be even more urgency. Holiday sales have gotten off to a sluggish start, and overall sales gains are not expected to be as rich as they were last year. (Read More: Dear Bargain Hunters: Don't Be a Turkey on Black Friday)
Off to a Slow Start
Still, industry analysts expect stores to be busy as shoppers rush out to snag deals.
"While the holiday shopping season is off to a relatively slow growth start, if the country experiences good weather conditions, Black Friday 2012 still has an opportunity to exceed $21 billion in total retail sales," said Michael McNamara, SpendingPulse's vice president for research and analysis. "This would set a new record for the busiest shopping day in U.S. history, up from $19.3 billion in 2011."
The National Retail Federation said it's expecting 147 million people to shop Black Friday weekend, which they define as Friday, Saturday and Sunday, a slight decrease from the 152 million who planned to do so last year.
Online Shopping, Turkey in Hand
Of course, there are some who would argue online shopping makes the argument against shopping on Thursday moot. Last year, many retailers including Best Buy, offered some Black Friday bargains online on Thursday. They will be doing the same this year.
In addition, Thanksgiving ranked among one of the busiest days for shoppers who purchased holiday gifts via their smartphone or tablet computer last year, and analysts do not expect that trend to change.
Shopping online can yield big deals. A study conducted by online coupon website RetailMeNot found shoppers snagged some of the biggest bargains on Thanksgiving Day, rather than Black Friday. (Read More: Despite the Scorn, Consumers Embrace 'Christmas Creep')
And retailers this year are planning to be even more generous with their free shipping offers, which should make shopping online an even better option.
J.C. Penney, for example, is offering free shipping from Thanksgiving day through Monday, Nov. 26, which is also known as Cyber Monday. So despite, J.C. Penney's relatively late start — it actually pushed its Black Friday start time back this year — shoppers can still peruse their deals, turkey in hand, on Thanksgiving.
Couple that with some of the already generous deals that have been circulating and it seems there are plenty of deals for bargain hunters to snag, whether they shop Thursday, Friday or some other day entirely.
A summary of select retail openings follows:
lack Friday: Most open at 12 a.m.
Online the Black Friday Sale begins Thanksgiving Day.
lack Friday Hours: 6 a.m. - Until 11 p.m.
Black Friday Early Bird Sale: 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.
hanksgiving: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Thanksgiving Night Doorbusters 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Black Friday Doorbusters Sale: 5 a.m. To 11 a.m.
Black Friday Hours: Thursday at Midnight - Friday at Midnight (Opened 24 hours)
Black Friday Early Bird Specials: Midnight on Thursday - Friday 1 p.m.
Saturday - 6 a.m. – Midnight
Black Friday Hours: starts 12 a.m.
Black Friday Morning Specials: 12 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Saturday Special Sale: 7 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Thanksgiving Day Hours: Some locations will be opened.
Black Friday Hours: Opens at 12 a.m.
hanksgiving: Opens at 8 p.m. through 10 p.m. on Black Friday
Black Friday Door Busters: 4 a.m. - 1 p.m.
hanksgiving Hours: 9 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Black Friday Hours: 12 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Black Friday Doorbusters: All Day with the exception of a few offers that go on sale at 4 a.m. until Noon.
Toys 'R Us
hanksgiving Hours: 8 p.m. through Black Friday - closing at 10 p.m. (most stores)
Doorbusters: Start on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m. while supplies last.
Calls their event "Pink Friday": Most stores open at 5 a.m., but a few will open at midnight.
hanksgiving night opens at 8 p.m.
8 p.m. on November 22:
Deals on Toys, Gaming, Home and Apparel
10 p.m. on November 22:
The BIG Event - Brand Name Electronics
5 a.m. on Nov. 23:
Savings on Gifts from Jewelry to Tires
-By Christina Cheddar Berk, CNBC.com News Editor