Black Friday isn’t what it used to be.

The impact on retailers of the year’s busiest shopping day has been diluted by extended store hours, a broader range of holiday sales, other designated shopping days such as Cyber Monday, and a growing consumer perception that the deals on Black Friday aren’t worth fighting the massive crowds.

However, retailers in Maine say Black Friday is still a bellwether for the holiday shopping season and a hugely important sales day for them. It is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, they said.

According to the International Council on Shopping Centers, a global trade association, 41 percent of the 1,000 shoppers it surveyed for its annual holiday shopping study said they will hit the stores on Black Friday. That percent has climbed from 26 percent in 2009, when the council first started surveying shoppers for Black Friday.

But even that organization makes reference to the “Black Friday shopping weekend,” a nod to the expanded time frame of bargains and bonus buys that used to be reserved exclusively for the Friday following Thanksgiving. According to the council, almost 30 percent of general merchandise sales will occur in November and December for the nation’s retailers.

In Maine, many retailers have extended their Black Friday hours and staggered sales throughout the day to manage customer traffic better, said Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine.

Retail outlets including The Maine Mall, in South Portland, and stores in Freeport have moved their openings to midnight Thursday during that time, he said. In other states, retailers are opening as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Picard said.

Maine is one of three states that prohibit that practice, he said, although its statute includes exceptions for smaller retailers and outdoor-products sellers such as L.L.Bean in Freeport.

The trend toward earlier openings is at least partly the result of a highly publicized Black Friday incident in 2008 in which a Wal-Mart employee in Ohio was trampled to death by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers who became so anxious for the store’s 5 a.m. opening that they broke down the door and stormed inside.

Opening at midnight and offering different specials throughout the night and day help retailers spread customer traffic over a longer period, Picard said.

“It helps with crowd control and makes for a safer environment,” he said.

Another change is that most retailers have extended the period in which they offer deals to holiday shoppers with various sales starting as early as mid-October and continuing through the end of January, Picard said.

That change is the result of increased competition from both online and brick-and-mortar retailers, he said. The added convenience of online shopping and the ability to order products with next-day and even same-day shipping has put pressure on storefront retailers to find new ways to attract customers.

“The advent of online shopping has really changed the dynamic,” Picard said.

Still, that doesn’t mean Black Friday has become less important to retailers, said Kelly Edwards, executive director of the Freeport Merchants Association.

In fact, the extended sales period that comes from opening at midnight has helped many retailers generate even more revenue than in the past, she said.

“A lot of them will actually beat their projected sales goals for the day by 3 a.m.,” Edwards said.

But for many shoppers, the expanded options for deals mean they aren’t as motivated as in years past to get up at the crack of dawn and battle crowds.

Wells resident Bayley Abendroth was at The Maine Mall on Tuesday shopping for her daughter’s birthday, but she said she does not plan to be back on Friday.

“It’s probably not worth being trampled,” Abendroth said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Canadian couple Todd and Nicole Burgess were in South Portland on Tuesday to shop at the mall. Like Abendroth, the New Brunswick residents said shopping on Black Friday is too much of a hassle.

“We were here a couple of years ago for Black Friday,” Nicole Burgess said. “We wouldn’t attempt it with kids.”

OTHER RETAIL FUN

In Freeport, the early openings on Black Friday have become a major event that includes a midnight charity fundraiser called the Fun Run & Moonlight Madness, during which participants chase Santa Claus on a red Harley-Davidson motorcycle to raise money for the Freeport Community Services Fuel Assistance Fund.

Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council on Shopping Centers, said that sort of experiential activity — participating in a philanthropic effort such as a food or clothing drive, or in an activity such as a movie or ice skating, attending a holiday event such as a tree lighting or a concert, getting a picture with Santa — is a growing part of the holiday shopping experience. According to the trade association’s survey, 45 percent of shoppers will engage in a nonshopping activity on Black Friday and 52 percent will do so Saturday or Sunday.

While Black Friday remains the official start of the holiday shopping season, it no longer stands alone as the only day on which shopping is emphasized, Edwards said.

Other branded holiday shopping days include Small Business Saturday (the day after Black Friday), Cyber Monday (the following Monday), and a relatively new one called Green Monday, which usually falls on the second Monday in December, a date identified and named by eBay as its most lucrative shopping day in the month.

“It’s a new national trend,” she said.

Chris Cummings, manager of clothing and accessories retailer Mexicali Blues in Freeport, said Black Friday is important for reasons other than the robust sales it generates. It also attracts a lot of new shoppers to the area who then return throughout the year, he said.

“It gets people out to see the store,” Cummings said.

Overall, retailers have become more focused on sales performance throughout the holiday shopping season as a whole, rather than on the impact of Black Friday, Picard said.

“That day alone doesn’t make or break folks,” he said.


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