Black Friday shopping this year will continue to have sizzle for the serious shopper, but the urgency to hit the stores early could be diminished, because doorbuster deals won't happen only on Friday - and won't necessarily involve doors, as more bargains are duplicated online.
That's why experts say it might not be worth fighting store crowds this year, unless you're the type who enjoys a little retail blood sport en route to scoring bargain TVs, video games, and Star Wars toys.
"Black Friday is quickly losing its meaning on many fronts," said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based retail consulting firm McMillanDoolittle. "Yes, there will be deals and doorbusters Friday morning, but they are really becoming an antiquated concept."
For example, Black Friday has decidedly spilled backward into Thursday, with Thanksgiving store hours the norm among major retailers. Although for the first time in years, they aren't pushing to go much earlier, with many sticking with openings around 6 p.m., presumably after many turkeys are already carved and consumed.
If Black Friday is dying, that doesn't mean holiday shopping is, too.
An estimated 135.8 million people are expected to shop online and in stores over Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday - invented as a seasonal nod to smaller retailers - and Sunday. Yet more people may shop on Cyber Monday than any of those other days, according to a retail federation survey.
Holiday spending in general is expected to rise 3.7 percent this year, to $630.5 billion, or an average of about $805 per shopper, according to the National Retail Federation. That's above the 10-year average of 2.5 percent.
Retailers, however, are posting mixed results leading into the holiday season.
Bellwethers like Nordstrom and Macy's recently posted disappointing third-quarter profits, and their share prices hit multiyear lows as investors worried about sales over the crucial Black Friday period. But days later, Wal-Mart, Target, and discount retailer TJX (T.J.Maxx and Marshalls) posted strong sales numbers.
Whatever retail results turn out to be, Black Friday from a consumer standpoint might be different this year, with more shoppers skipping the long lines outside a retailer early Friday. Indeed, Black Friday doesn't even represent the kickoff to Christmas shopping anymore.
"Thanksgiving weekend shopping has evolved tremendously over the past few years and can no longer be seen as the start of the holiday season, though there's no question it's still important to millions of holiday shoppers and retailers of all shapes and sizes," said Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation. "There is a real sea change happening in retail when it comes to the how, when, where, and why of holiday shopping."
Two primary factors diminish the importance of Black Friday: spreading out the bargains to other days and putting doorbuster deals online.
"A large number of retailers are already doing pre-Black Friday sales, where they are effectively going on promotion now," Stern said.
About 60 percent of shoppers had started holiday shopping by Nov. 10, a retail federation survey showed.
Even some of the nation's largest bricks-and-mortar retailers, Wal-Mart and Target, are offering the same deals online as in-store. "So, the need to wake up early, join the line, and stampede becomes less relevant," Stern said.