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You can’t say holiday shoppers don’t have a choice this year.

They can hit the big early holiday shopping sales starting on Thanksgiving afternoon and evening, a recent trend of stores opening before the traditional Black Friday shopping melees in what’s been dubbed “Gray Thursday.”

And then there are the early online sales that have nearly stretched Black Friday into nearly a full week, with some Internet offers starting as as Nov. 18, such as $500 off a smart TV offered by BJ’s Wholesale Club. Retailer Meijer started offering its Black Friday specials as early as Saturday, meaning shoppers can nurse a turkey hangover and click their way through the deals rather than fight the crowds.

The bottom line is that however shoppers want to shop, retailers are ready.

“People have the ability and the right to shop or not shop on Thursday,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with the National Retail Federation. “It’s not like retailers are doing something that’s violating beliefs.”

The Retail Federation estimates that 137.4 million Americans plan to shop Thanksgiving weekend, with 21 percent of them shopping on Thanksgiving Day, nearly the same as last year’s 22 percent. As of Monday, the federation survey found that 55.7 percent of shoppers had already started buying holiday gifts.

Shoppers are expected to spend more for the holidays this year, despite what analysts say will be a lackluster season when it comes to new merchandise. The economy is thriving, Cohen said, and that’s enough to drive people to spend more regardless of what retailers are offering.

The federation estimates that holiday sales will increase 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion, compared to last year’s 4.1 percent growth. Consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the holiday shopping season, which includes gifts, food, flowers, decorations and greeting cards for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. According to federation estimates, total holiday spending this year will be the best since the 2015 set a record, with average spending of $952.58 per shopper.

Likewise, the Michigan Retailers Association forecast sales this holiday season will rise 2.1 percent compared with last year.

Cohen projected national sales will increase around 3 percent compared to last year. It would have been more, he said, but retailers aren’t unveiling much new or innovative merchandise this year, which especially dampens the push to get out to shop late on Thanksgiving or early on Black Friday.

Still, retailers are beginning to battle with when to open, Cohen said. There’s a balance between trying to grab the first wave of shoppers Thanksgiving afternoon or evening, versus holding off during the holiday to mount a big push on Friday.

In Livonia, Laurel Park Place on Six Mile won’t open until 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

“We’re very excited to bring Black Friday back and focus on having Black Friday be the shopping day,” said spokeswoman Melissa Cavanaugh. “Mall and retail employees deserve to spend this holiday with their family and friends and not have to rush through dinner to make it to work.”

Cavanaugh said all but two of the mall’s 72 stores will be closed on Thanksgiving. Only Eddie Bauer and Carson’s — which shoppers can access without entering the mall — will be open. The decision to close on Thanksgiving affects roughly 800 employees, she said.

Laurel Park officials aren’t sure how the decision will affect their sales, but “the trend looked like it was not a loss of sales by being closed.” The trend in recent years to open stores on Thanksgiving meant that traditional Black Friday sales simply were spread out over two days instead of one. She anticipated sales condensing back into one day this year.

In Troy, The Somerset Collection also will close on Thanksgiving “as a thank-you to our retailers,” mall officials said. Instead, Somerset will open at 8 a.m. for Black Friday, two hours before its regular opening time. Somerset will maintain its regular schedule through Dec. 15, adding additional hours from Dec. 16-24 to accommodate shoppers.

The decision on whether to open on Thanksgiving affects big box and chain retailers more than malls and independent retailers, said Cohen of the Retail Federation. Shoppers typically plan their Gray Thursday and Black Friday shopping strategically. Consumers who planned to go shopping on Thursday are still going out, they’ll just adjust their plan according to what is open.

Black Friday’s shift to a more relaxed pace is a boon for consumers, said Ivy Chou, Marketing & Public Relations Director at DealsPlus.com. “You don’t need to wait in line anymore,” Chou said.

But that doesn’t mean consumers can completely relax. Chou recommends looking for specific items, such as televisions, on Black Friday when they are marked down the most. Afterward, shoppers should look for perks such as gift cards, extra discount coupons and rebates to balance their budget. It also helps to study ad circulars or online promotions before hitting the stores to find the best bargains.

At Meijer, where most stores are open 24 hours a day, new specials go one sale at 6 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

In her 16 years working for Meijer, Seleana Yancey has seen her share of chaos. That is why the director of the store on Grand River in Detroit said her Black Friday goal is to minimize confusion, create an easy shopping experience and pump up her sales associates for the long haul.

For example, Meijer has a store map that highlights where each of its hottest deals are located. Her store will open as many cashier lines as possible. And she plans on bringing coffee and doughnuts to employees who need a sugar fix.

“We’re going to make this a fun day,” Yancey said. “We’ve tried every year to make it better and easier for our customers (and) for our team members.”

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2359

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Metro Detroit freelance journalist Karen Dybis contributed.

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