In the film "Field of Dreams," an Iowa corn farmer hears voices telling him, "If you build it, he will come." The farmer builds a baseball field and out of the rows of cornstalks come members of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox.
For years, American retailers have been hearing voices telling them, "If you open earlier, we will spend." Opening early used to mean the pre-dawn hours of the Friday after Thanksgiving. That seems quaint compared to what many stores are planning for this week. Several national chains like Wal-Mart, Target and Sears will open Thanksgiving night, figuring shoppers will appear even before the pumpkin pie has cooled off at home.
The company executives making the decision to start the Friday after Thanksgiv
ing shopping spree hours before Friday begins say its customers who are asking for the earlier sales. Wal-Mart's heaviest customer traffic last year was at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Consumer research firm NPD Group found stores with earlier openings increased their sales 22 percent on average. Forget about a second helping of stuffing; shoppers are increasingly trading the dinner table for the check-out lane.
Critics decry this holiday-shopping creep into the actual Thanksgiving Day as anti-labor, corrosive to the American family, and a disturbing elevation of rampant consumption over more traditional values. But unlike the White Sox in "Field of Dreams," the crowds rushing through the turnstiles on Thanksgiving are not ghosts. They, and their spending, is very real.
Tom Hudson, anchor and managing editor of "Nightly Business Report," can be followed on Twitter HudsonNBR.