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Black Friday shoppers may find only leftovers

Today we give thanks for our blessings. We give thanks for our families, our health, our homes; and for Black Friday, or Gray Thursday, or whatever it is we now call the holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving.

Despite emphatic disapproval and the threat of boycotts, retailers will jumpstart the holiday shopping season today, kicking off sales earlier than ever before. Though many consumers declared loud and clear they don’t like it, retailers will open their doors today and shoppers will come.

But it’s anyone’s guess how many Thanksgiving Day shoppers will choose the stores over the stuffing. The International Council of Shopping Centers predicts the bulk of consumers will favor Black Friday proper, forecasting just 18 percent of shoppers will hit the malls today.

“The days of standing in line at a store at 4 a.m. on Friday are over,” said Ross Steinman an associate professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania who specializes in the psychology of marketing.

Stores open their doors earlier each year in hopes of outdoing one another and ringing up bigger receipts. Shoppers do the majority of their Black Friday spending at the first two stores they visit, so being the first to open is important.

But despite all the hype, those added hours haven’t succeeded in getting shoppers to spend more money.

Last year, 44.8 million people shopped on Thanksgiving, almost a third more than did so in 2012. But the average dollar amount shoppers spent overall from Thanksgiving through Sunday actually dropped by 4 percent, according to statistics from the National Retail Federation.

Black Friday, once a one-day wonder, now stretches to fill the entire month of November. The event is fragmented – some say diluted – and traditional shopping patterns have changed completely.

“There’s not as much pressure on that one day,” Steinman said. “It’s not going to be that frenzied craziness we once had. There will be more of a sustained buzz.”

That could be a good thing for consumers, who may deal with less jostling in lines and find more opportunities to save money throughout the season.

But with the majority of the deepest price cuts and doorbuster sales offered on Thanksgiving, it puts customers in an awkward position – and that could be bad news for retailers.

“There is a backlash, and that ill will is going to catch up to Walden Galleria and some of the other retailers opening on Thanksgiving,” said Burt Flickinger III, a retail expert and managing director of Strategic Resource Group. “People want to see Thanksgiving as a day of gratitude, they don’t want it to be about mindless conspicuous consumption.”

Companies are likely to re-evaluate their Thanksgiving openings, Flickinger said, especially as retailers see labor and operating costs increase without getting back a meaningful increase in revenue.

It costs a lot of money to keep a workforce in place overnight and to pay premium holiday wages. If the returns aren’t big enough, stores could scrap Thanksgiving hours altogether.

But even if stores reverse strategy, brands could be tarnished beyond remedy. Shoppers already have banded together promising to boycott stores that open during the holiday, and have vowed to support those that stay closed instead. Companies would be wiser to forgo a few hours’ profits in order to hang onto customer loyalty, experts said.

“The stores that stay closed are saying, ‘We respect people, we respect family values,’ ” said Arun Jain, a marketing professor at the University at Buffalo.

“Those that don’t are putting profits before people, and customers will take note of that.”

For the shoppers that do show up today, here’s what the big boxes have in store.

• Walmart Supercenters are open 24 hours. Customers in line between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. are guaranteed doorbuster specials, including 50-inch flat-screen TV for $218.

• Kmart opens at 6 a.m. today with $4.99 hand mixers, irons, toasters and electric can openers.

• Radio Shack opens at 8 a.m. with a Nobis 7-inch 8GB tablet and matching case for $49.99. The store closes from noon to 5 p.m. today.

• Michael’s opens at 4 p.m. with a coupon for 30 percent off your entire purchase and 60 percent off other doorbusters.

• Best Buy opens at 5 p.m. today and will remain open through 1 a.m. Friday. Deals include a 50-inch Panasonic HD television set for $199.

• JC Penney opens at 5 p.m. today with $9.99 griddles, slow cookers, toaster ovens and deep fryers, and $2.99 bath towels.

• Bon-Ton opens at 6 p.m. today with more than 600 doorbusters, including down-alternative comforters and women’s boots for $19.97.

• Kohl’s opens at 6 p.m. today with 75 percent off sheets and a 7-inch Polaroid tablet for $59.99.

• Macy’s opens at 6 p.m. today with 30 to 75 percent off storewide merchandise and $9.99 electric skillets.

• Sears opens at 6 p.m. today offering quarter-karat diamond earrings for $24.99 with a purchase of $19.99 or more and 55 percent off a Kenmore washer and dryer set.

• Target opens at 6 p.m. today with Beats by Dr. Dre headphones for $97 and an Xbox One bundle, which comes with a $50 Target gift card, for $329.99.

•Toys “R” Us opens at 5 p.m. today with a jumbo Disney Frozen Olaf plush for $19.99 and Let’s Rock Elmo for $14.99.

• Walden Galleria opens at 6 p.m. today and will stay open overnight until 11 p.m. Friday.

A Midnight Madness party will begin at midnight, where shoppers can register for a chance to win a $500 shopping spree. The first 250 entrants get a free gift. Mall representatives will hand out gift cards to random shoppers from 12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.

• Eastern Hills Mall and McKinley Mall open at 6 p.m. today and will remain open until 9 p.m. Friday night.

• Boulevard Mall opens at 6 p.m. today and will remain open through 10 p.m. Friday.

• Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls opens it doors at 8 p.m. today to kick off the mall’s Fashionably Late celebration. Three radio stations will do remote broadcasts from the mall and hand out prizes. Stores open at 10 p.m.