MARGARET WARNER: And to the holiday retail season. Tomorrow is the traditional kick-off, but some stores are opening today.
NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden looks at how that's playing out in Denver.
TOM BEARDEN: Black Friday has become almost a competitive sport, with shoppers trying desperately to outmaneuver others, hoping to get the hot items of the season at bargain basement prices.
It's a concept playfully featured this year in a TV ad by the retailer Target.
COMMERCIAL AD: Target 2-day sale starts next Friday morning at midnight. Are you ready?
TOM BEARDEN: In recent years, stores have started opening at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, attracting people like college student McKenna Brink.
Are you a big time Black Friday shopper?
MCKENNA BRINK, college student: Yes! I love it. I usually go every year with my family.
TOM BEARDEN: Why do you do that?
BRINK: To get the best deals, of course!
TOM BEARDEN : This year, in a competition of their own, some retailers are opening their doors even sooner. Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Toys "R" Us will begin sales at 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Target will begin at midnight, four hours earlier than last year.
MARK EVERETT, Target: You know, we have a lot of hot items this year.
TOM BEARDEN: Mark Everett is Target's director of sales for six Western states.
MARK EVERETT: We are really excited this year to be able to open at midnight for our guests. Our guests continue to tell us that they want us to be at the top of their shopping list. And, you know, every year, we do see that inching back a little more and a little bit more. And at Target, we continue to want to do the right thing and position ourselves to be there for our guests so that they can enjoy that shopping experience that they are looking forward to and planning for.
TOM BEARDEN: But some people think stores have finally gone too far, like Trisha Marino.
What do you think of this idea of more and more stores starting the Christmas season earlier?
TRISHA MARINO: I think it's repulsive.
TOM BEARDEN: Why so?
TRISHA MARINO: Because Thanksgiving is supposed to be a family holiday. And I think before you know it, it's going to become a holiday where it's going to become the biggest shopping day and I feel sorry for all of the people who have to work that day, because they can't even enjoy their Thanksgiving.
TOM BEARDEN : Some employees agree and began petition drives to make their complaints known. On Monday, a Target employee delivered petitions with nearly 200,000 signatures to Target headquarters in Minneapolis.
But Target manager Everett says working on Thanksgiving Day is voluntary and that employees get paid extra for doing so.
MARK EVERETT: Our store leaders have been working very close with our team members, to make sure that we accommodate their schedules. We have several team members who we did allow them to work when it made sense for them and for their family, the support has been overwhelming.
TOM BEARDEN: Still, it's the principle that bothers many.
PAULA GENDILL: Make sure that it's filled to the top, because if it doesn't have enough flavor, then it's just wet bread.
TOM BEARDEN: Paula Gendill was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for more than 25 people this year. Both of her adult sons work in the retail business, and early store openings have disrupted their holiday in the past.
PAULA GENDILL: Couple of years ago, one of my sons had to be at work at 3:00 a.m. Even though he was living at home, he went to bed at like 7:00 p.m. And that was the end of Thanksgiving for him.
And I want my children, my family, to have the opportunity to be together as long as they want in the evening. We don't get together everyday. So, this is one day.
TOM BEARDEN: Gendill signed one of the petitions asking companies to back off.
PAULA GENDILL: I signed the petition because my voice is one little voice. And I was hoping to be part of a bigger voice that perhaps they would hear. They don't put any importance on being together. And I think that's part of what is going wrong with our society. I think that we put profit and consumerism over being together and the more traditional family values.
TOM BEARDEN: Laurie Tart agrees.
LAURIE TART: I was a little disheartened when I went into a store before Halloween and there were Christmas stuff there. I was like no! We haven't even had Halloween! I don't like that it's rushed. I think it's being rushed. I think they're trying to drag out the season, I understand that, because they want to make -- they need to make the season longer to get the money that they need.
TOM BEARDEN: But she's still an avid Black Friday shopper.
LAURIE TART: It kind of puts you in the Christmas mood. It starts me. And then I can go out and decorate and get some ideas for new Christmas decorations and how to decorate.
TOM BEARDEN: Some economists say the reason so many companies are trying to push the Christmas season is because consumer spending hasn't been rising over the last several years. That forces them to compete for their piece of the pie that simply isn't expanding.
What are the prospects for retailers this season?
MAC CLOUSE, University of Denver: Well, it's going to be difficult. Consumers still haven't built their confidence level and think they're still a bit scared.
TOM BEARDEN: University of Denver business professor Mac Clouse says Black Friday is a critical day.
MAC CLOUSE: For many businesses, it's, as they say, the day that turns their profits from the red to the black. So, it is important. It's not necessarily the highest volume. They still get the largest volume of sales in the days right before Christmas. But it's probably the busiest in terms of the number of people out there.
TOM BEARDEN : Make or break for some?
MAC CLOUSE: It can be make or break for some. If they have a good Black Friday, then hopefully, they'll start off a good Christmas season for them.
TOM BEARDEN : He says in this economy, retailers need to do everything they can to get shoppers in their stores earlier. And they need to make it as easy as possible.
MAN: I wish you guys had layaway.
TOM BEARDEN: This year, retail giant Wal-Mart reintroduced what used to be a Christmas staple -- layaways.
COMMERCIAL AD: Layaway is back for Christmas, in our toys, electronics, and jewelry departments.
MAC CLOUSE: It's a great idea for the consumer. If you can get credit from the vendor, credit cards are maybe maxed out. It's tough to get a bank loan right now for the consumers. So, if you can get essentially an interest-free loan from one of the vendors, that's great.
TOM BEARDEN: The economic forecasts for the 2011 holiday season are mixed. Some surveys indicate a modest rise in spending, but most say people will spend about the same as last year, or perhaps a little less. Economists say it all depends on consumer confidence, which as been in short supply for the last four years.