Holiday Shoppers Can Look Forward to an Extra Bloated Black Friday

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To get in on the Black Friday shopping deals in 2012, it’ll be necessary to skip dessert and miss the end of the football game on Thanksgiving night. Heck, you can start shopping the “Black Friday” bargains long before the turkey’s even on the table.

By some indications, Black Friday shopping is supposed to be subdued in 2012 — relatively speaking. Surely, large crowds will hit the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, but most experts anticipate only a modest increase in sales over last year’s mammoth shopping day. One reason this is so is due to the fact that the holiday season expands year after year, with many stores (and many consumers) getting into the spirit as early as September.

If you’ve already been doing holiday shopping for two-plus months, the prospect of more shopping on Black Friday isn’t quite as exciting as it used to be, no matter how good the deals appear.

To up the excitement factor, stores are expanding Black Friday well beyond a simple 24-hour day. Walmart’s Black Friday deals in 2011 kicked off at 10 p.m. on Thursday (Thanksgiving) evening. This year, shoppers get two more hours of Black Friday (Thursday?) specials, with Walmart rolling out its first holiday specials at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. Toys R Us has also announced plans to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night with its Black Friday offerings. Meaning: Shoppers might have to ask for that post-turkey pumpkin pie to go.

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While Walmart‘s first Black Friday promotions are introduced at 8 p.m., another Walmart program encourages shoppers to be in line at the stores by 10 p.m. By doing so, they’ll be guaranteed to take advantage of a second round of deals, including a $38 Blu-ray player and a $75 Walmart gift card with the purchase of an Apple iPad 2. Yet another round of deals becomes available at 5 a.m. on actual Black Friday.

“My preference is that shoppers go to all three” of these special Black Friday shopping events, said Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart’s chief merchandising and marketing officer, during a conference call last week. His advice: Shop on Thanksgiving night, then “take a quick nap and come back” for the deals on Friday morning.

Walmart is hardly the only retailer attempting to attract “Black Friday” shoppers before (and after) the day is actually here. Sears has announced that members of its free loyalty program Shop Your Way will be allowed to buy Black Friday doorbuster deals online starting on the night of Sunday, November 18—five days before Black Friday. At this point, it’s unclear which of the “select sale items” will be made available in advance to loyalty members, but the online shopping window will be open through Monday at midnight.

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One more bit of fine print: All merchandise purchased with this promotion must be picked up in a physical Sears store (i.e., no shipping). Based on how these early offers are structured, it’s easy to see that Sears is hoping to entice more consumers into signing up for its loyalty program, while simultaneously forcing shoppers to come into stores—where they might be tempted into making purchases they hadn’t planned on.

Amazon’s official Black Friday Deals Week (yes, a whole week) starts Monday, November 19, and pre-Black Friday “Lightning Deals” are already available. Last year, Amazon rolled out a string of Black Friday deals 24 days before Black Friday, so by now we should come to expect a loose, expanded interpretation of the “day” from the world’s largest e-retailer.

Toys R Us opened its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night to kick off Black Friday last year, and it’s opening an hour earlier on Thanksgiving evening for 2012. But in some ways the Black Friday deals have already appeared. Over the past weekend, Toys R Us hosted a “2-Day Super Sale” featuring “doorbusters” normally associated with Black Friday, such as $1 board games, buy-one-get-one-free Crayola products, extra 20% off on everything bought during specified hours, and bonus gift cards galore for shoppers meeting certain purchase thresholds.

(MORE: Why Black Friday Will Be Subdued and Cyber Monday Will Break Records)

OfficeMax, meanwhile, began dropping Black Friday deals on Friday, November 9, with the start of its “Black Friday Every Friday” promotion. Shoppers get a “Black Friday caliber deal” every Friday from November 9 through December 14, meaning that “Black Friday” starts well before and lasts long after the actual Black Friday.