Should stores begin Black Friday discounts on Thursday?

If you wanted the best deals this Black Friday, you probably found yourself cutting short the Thanksgiving dinner. This year, for most retailers, Black Friday discounts started on Thursday.

Gone are the days of waking up in the middle of the night to be first in line for the year’s deepest discounts. Walmart, Toys R Us, Target and Kmart opened before 9 pm on Thursday night. Compared to last year, virtually every major retailer opened earlier this Black Friday.

Many people are not pleased with the trend of big box stores starting Black Friday discounts earlier each year.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, unhappy with Walmart requiring employees to work on Thanksgiving, organized hundreds of protests leading up to the holiday shopping weekend. One of the goals of these demonstrations was to encourage employees to skip work on Thanksgiving.

Despite the anger from outside groups, Walmart says less than 50 of their 200 million employees participated in protests. They also reported the number of employees that did not show up for work this year was no greater than past Thanksgiving weekends.

“We had very safe and successful Black Friday events at our stores across the country and heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers,” said Bill Simon, Walmart president and CEO. “I’m so proud of what our more than 1.3 million associates have done to prepare and execute our Black Friday plans, giving our customers a great start to their Christmas shopping season.”

What is motivating the nation’s top stores to start Black Friday discounts early? Money, of course. Profits are higher than ever for retailers. Walmart, for instance, says it sold 5,000 items per second and processed 10 million transactions before midnight on Thursday. Black Friday 2012 shoppers spent almost 13 percent more than Black Friday 2011 shoppers.

ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based agency that gathers shopping data from more than 40,000 retail locations, reports that shoppers across the country spent more than ever this Thanksgiving weekend. Co-founder Bill Martin told the Associated Press that Americans spent $800 million on Thanksgiving Day alone – far surpassing retail sales predictions for the holiday.

Many people are outraged that shoppers are now forced to give up family time on Thanksgiving in order to line up for deals. While I prefer that stores wait until at least midnight to open, I understand that larger profits help the overall economy. The success of opening early this year might lead to more jobs next year. As long as people are willing to shop, I do not see a problem with retailers catering to those customers.