Retailers counting on Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales in stores and online _lowres

Associated Press file photo -- Retalers are ready fo the nearly 136 million consumers expected to participate nationally in the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Many of them are making more if not all of the same Black Friday deals available online as in stores.

Lured by the promise of deep discounts on hot-ticket items such as home appliances, big-screen televisions and video game consoles, plenty of people will put away the leftovers and head to the store on Thursday as more retailers begin opening their doors on Thanksgiving rather than waiting for Friday.

Nearly 136 million consumers may participate in the busiest shopping weekend of the year, according to forecasts from the National Retail Federation. But in recent years, as more of them have reached for their keyboard rather than their car keys, many big-box retailers have adjusted, making more if not all of the same Black Friday deals available online and alleviating the need to camp out at dawn to snag a great deal.

Of those surveyed who said they were likely to go shopping over the holiday weekend, nearly three-quarters reported plans to do it Friday, with less than a quarter ready to go out on Thanksgiving, according to the trade group’s preliminary count.

As a bonus for online shoppers, many retailers are advertising incentives such as discounted shipping or same-day delivery throughout the holiday season, likely in an effort to compete with Internet juggernaut Amazon.com.

Retailing giant Wal-Mart is among those putting most Black Friday deals online Thursday morning. Brick-and-mortar Wal-Mart locations will open at 6 p.m. Thursday.

At the Esplanade Mall in Kenner, the Macy’s and Target stores are slated to open at 6 p.m. Thursday. At the Clearview Mall in Metairie, Target and Sears will also open at 6 p.m.

It’s a mixed bag at the Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie. JC Penney opens at 3 p.m. Thursday. Some stores, including clothing chains like Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale and Banana Republic, as well as Dick’s Sporting Goods, plan to open at 6 p.m. Other retailers are holding off until Friday, including American Eagle, midnight, J.Crew, 6 a.m., and Dillard’s, 8 a.m.

A number of the same big-box retailers plan to make many — if not all — of the same deals available online Thursday.

At Target, Black Friday deals will be posted online Thursday morning. As an added incentive to draw crowds on Friday, Target is dangling an offer of 20 percent off a future purchase for customers who spend at least $75.

Sears, which has locations in Gretna and Metairie, is slated to close at 2 a.m. Friday and reopen at 5 a.m., with a fresh round of deals — including appliances, apparel, tools and jewelry — and, presumably, salespeople.

Macy’s will open its stores in Metairie and Kenner at 6 p.m. Thursday but will offer deals on its website all day.

At the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk in downtown New Orleans, many stores will open at 4 p.m. Thursday, said General Manager Frank Quinn.

“We were not open last year, and we got several requests to give it a try from our retailers who are open in other locations across the country,” he said.

The Outlet Collection is also marketing its more than 75 stores to international travelers who are visiting the city over the holiday weekend but may not be familiar with the Thanksgiving holiday. “That’s one of the benefits of being in a downtown location,” Quinn said.

The Riverwalk will reopen at 8 a.m. Friday, a start time that was pushed back two hours from last year, when, he said, 6 a.m. “seemed like it was a bit early for a downtown setting.”

Meanwhile, some retailers have pushed back in recent weeks from the hoopla tied to the big weekend. To much fanfare, outdoor retailer REI — which has no Louisiana locations — announced it will close the doors to its 143 retail stores Thursday and Friday. Its website will be dark Friday, and the retailer plans to pay its 12,000 workers to take the day off.

“Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the essential truth that life is richer, more connected and complete when you choose to spend it outside,” Jerry Stritzke, REI’s president and CEO, said in a statement

Locally, other big chain stores, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, will be closed Thursday but open Friday.

For many large retailers, deciding whether to open Thursday, Friday or not at all can be a tough call that plays out at the corporate level, said Pamela Kennett-Hensel, a marketing professor at the University of New Orleans.

“It’s a delicate balancing act between deciding whether you want to go for the profits or the opportunity to make money on Thursday vs. do you want to go the route of allowing or encouraging your employees and your customers to spend time with their family and waiting until Friday to really jump into it,” she said.

For shoppers, even those who cringe or scoff at the prospect of tramping out to the mall after a long day of cooking and eating with family and friends, sometimes the savings are too hard to resist.

“If you give people the opportunity to get something at a deal, at a better price, they’ll take advantage of it,” said Harish Sujan, a business professor at Tulane University. “They’ll push aside their turkey plates and go shopping. It’s too tempting.”

However, that doesn’t mean Sujan agrees with it.

“For all but this one day of the year and Christmas Day, we have these sales people in retail stores serving us,” he said. “What about thinking about them? They need a break, too.”

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.