Getty Images/Sandy Huffaker
Shoppers wait in line at a San Diego Target store before "Black Friday" last year. This year, Target stores will open at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, drawing ire from some employees.
Retailers are continuing their push to get shoppers in the doors soon after Thanksgiving meals are consumed, with Target among the retail chains opening earlier than ever before and Sears opening on Thanksgiving night for the first time.
Target stores will open at 9 p.m. Thursday, three hours earlier than last year, when its midnight opening was its earliest ever.
Toys R Us will open at 8 p.m., one hour earlier than last year and two hours earlier than 2010, the first time it was open on Thanksgiving.
Sears stores will open at 8 p.m., remaining open until 10 p.m. Friday, after being closed on Thanksgiving last year and for all but one other Thanksgiving since its founding in 1886. Sears stores were open from 7 a.m. to noon on Thanksgiving in 2010.
"People want to shop on Thanksgiving," said Anthony Dukes, an associate professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.
He said more people could be shopping because there an increasing number of diners are getting their Thanksgiving dinner out at restaurants.
Representatives of Target and Sears cited customer demand as the reason for the unprecedented Thanksgiving night openings.
Target's 9 p.m. opening "reflects the feedback we have heard from our guests -- many prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning," according to a statement on its website.
Kmart, which has been open on Thanksgiving for 21 consecutive years, will be open from 6 p.m. to 4 p.m. today and 8 p.m. tonight to 3 a.m. Friday. Most of its stores were open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. last Thanksgiving.
As was the case a year ago, Target was this fall the subject of a petition drive on the website Change.org, requesting that it reverse its record early opening so its employees do not have to sacrifice spending time with their families on Thanksgiving.
"Target can take the high road and save Thanksgiving for employees like me and our families by saying no to 'Thanksgiving Creep,'" Casey St. Clair of Corona, who began the petition drive, wrote on the website.
St. Clair said she's worked at Target for six years and is a recent transplant to California. Because she has to work on Black Friday, she said, she's unable to travel to the East Coast to spend the holiday with family. Instead, she hoped to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend's relatives.
"I really enjoy my job," she wrote. "Thanksgiving, though, is one of the three days us retail workers get off a year: a day most all of us spend with family we only get to see on that day."
The petition drew more than 371,500 backers as of midday Thursday.
Target respects "the right of all of our team members and guests to express their opinions. We encourage team members to speak directly with their team leadership to work together to address any concerns they might have," the statement on its website said.
All Target employees working on Thanksgiving and certain hours Friday will receive additional pay, according to Jodee Koziak, the chain's executive vice president for human resources.