If you’re planning to head to the stores the Friday after Thanksgiving in search of hot deals, you might want to rethink your strategy. Black Friday may be a thing of the past.

In 2011, a large number of retailers opened up their stores Thursday evening for Thanksgiving deals, especially in the toy aisles. I saw long lines of people lined up to get into Toys R Us and Walmart. The great deals and discounts that you normally saw on Friday morning after Thanksgiving were now bring offered on Thursday evening and the consumers were gobbling them up. Black Friday became Black Thursday.

When I returned to the stores Friday morning, I expected them to be packed. I was shocked to see that, while the stores had many shoppers, there were plenty of spots open in the parking lots and the stores weren’t crowded. After talking to many of the retailers, I learned that many people preferred staying out very late after Thanksgiving to shop than getting up early to grab those deals. In the early afternoon the parking lots began to fill up and the stores again filled up with customers. But by then, some of the “special” deals were sold out.

What do I expect for 2012: Retailers saw what happened last year and how popular shopping that night was, so expect bigger deals and more people out shopping on Thanksgiving night. If there is a must-have item or deal that you are hunting for, check with the store to see if they’re open late on Thanksgiving Day and be prepared for crowds.

Whether you believe post-Thanksgiving retail hype is wrong or right, this is the way it’s going to be as the retail landscape of Thanksgiving weekend deals and shopping patterns has changed. So be smart, prepare in advance for what you need to buy, and pay attention to promoted bargains but also be aware of online deals that may help you snag that toy your child has been asking for.

At TimetoPlaymag.com, we’re always playing so you can have a safe and (hopefully) stress-free shopping season!

For your information, here are the Black Thursday/Friday hours for some major retailers. We’ll add more as they’re announced.

    Toys R Us – 8 pm Thursday night
    Wal-Mart – 8 pm Thursday night
    Target – 9 pm Thursday night
    K-Mart – Thursday from 6 am to 4 pm, then 8 pm to 3 am Friday morning
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