In intensifying competition for customers, retailers have escalated this year's Black Friday promotions to all new extremes, including opening store doors as early as Thanksgiving night.
"We strategize," said Medford resident Sherri Wright. "Then, we divide and conquer."
Wright and her friend, Rebecca Phillips, said they planned to turn out for what is one of the most manic promotions this year at Toys "R" Us. The toy store on Biddle Road opens at 10 tonight to kick off its holiday season.
But just two hours later, sleepy-eyed employees, perhaps in disbelief they have to work in the middle of the night, will unlock doors at midnight at Target, Old Navy, Walmart and select stores at Medford's Rogue Valley Mall.
By the time shoppers have finished at those sales, the mall's department stores, JCPenney, Kohl's and Macy's, will have unlocked their doors at 3 a.m. Sears opens at 4 a.m., while Fred Meyer plans to welcome crowds at 5 a.m.
JCPenney store manager Frank Clifton said 3 a.m. is JCPenney's earliest Black Friday opening yet.
"It's really about demand," Clifton said. "Last year, we unlocked the doors at 3:30 a.m. We were really busy. The customers are responding to the earlier openings. Everybody has a lot of fun."
It also was a first for Rogue Valley Mall, which has more than a dozen stores opening at midnight.
"This is the first time we've had stores do this," said Margaret Gourley, Rogue Valley Mall administrative assistant.
But there's method to the madness, said retailers, who are expecting a good turnout.
Estimates show the U.S. public is eager for Black Friday's reduced prices.
About 138 million people nationwide — 4 million more than last year — are expected to turn out for the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping spree, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Foundation. ShopperTrak predicts Black Friday will draw the heaviest shopper foot traffic of the year, as it has every year since 2002, with the exception of 2004.
Some Southern Oregon shoppers have mapped out strategies to net the best deals.
Wright and Phillips have compiled a list of needs and Christmas gift ideas. On Thanksgiving, they planned to review prices in the Black Friday ads and then schedule store visits according to opening times and deals on the items they want.
"My husband's only job is to get us the paper," Phillips quipped.
Wright said she already had peeked at some items advertised in advance on store websites, including cashmere sweaters for $34.99 at Kohl's.
"We've got to hit Fred Meyer for socks because they always have socks on sale," Wright said. "Then, we'll go to Sears to get a stove."
Starbucks would be their first stop, the two women said.
The indirect beneficiaries of the midnight mania, Starbucks locations in the Rogue Valley Mall and at Highway 62 and Delta Waters — two of the heaviest shopping areas in Medford — plan to open at midnight on Black Friday. The Starbucks in Barnes and Noble on Biddle Road opens at 3 a.m.
Elizabeth Cope of Eagle Point said she was game for the Black Friday sales but wasn't planning on attending any of the midnight openings.
"We'll go at 4 or 5 maybe, not midnight," she said. She said she hoped to find some discounted toys for her 4-year-old son, Kyle.
Other local residents just weren't having any of it.
"I guess I'm old-fashioned," said Medford resident Suzanne Qualls. "I wouldn't get up that early or stay up that late to shop for anything. There is no special thing that's worth that to me."
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail email@example.com.