There are signs of improvement, including rising home prices and a jobless rate that's ducked under 8 percent in the past two months, the lowest since January 2009. Household confidence in the week ended Nov. 11 climbed to -33.1, the highest level in seven months, according to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, and has increased in 10 of the past 12 weeks. Still, that figure indicates that one-third of those surveyed hold a negative view of the economy.
Black Friday got its name because retailers traditionally turned profitable on the day following Thanksgiving. While that is no longer true across the board, Black Friday has become a powerful marketing tool and one of the busiest days on the U.S. shopping calendar. More than half of American consumers plan to shop during the holiday weekend, with about one-third hitting the stores on Black Friday alone, according to a survey conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, an industry group based in New York.
Thousands more stores are opening early this year, after a few chains tested the water last year.
Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, will start its in-store specials at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. Gap, the biggest U.S. specialty-apparel retailer, is opening more stores, about a third of its total, mostly at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving this year. Macy's is opening stores at midnight after Thanksgiving having done so for the first time last year. Kohl's, Staples and The Disney Store are among those offering "pre-Black Friday" specials.
Merchants that sell to teens can particularly benefit from earlier hours, according to John Morris, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York. Most American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch stores will open at midnight.