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Twenty-four-hour American economy; midnight shopping gains popularity

While many Americans sleep after hearty turkey dinner, Glenn Murphy will mix up with the crowd in an outlet mall.

Murphy, chairman and CEO of The Gap Inc., said he and other executives are assessing whether the retail industry's "doorbuster" promotions - which begin at midnight, only hours after the pumpkin pie is served - are worth the additional costs and scheduling hassles.

Besides midnight openings at 170 Gap Outlets nationwide, about 90 percent of the company's Old Navy franchises will open at 5 a.m. Friday, traditionally among the busiest shopping days of the year. That's two hours earlier than Old Navy opened last year.

"There is a point from an industry perspective where you get diminishing returns," said Murphy, who is spearheading an ambitious turnaround and aggressive cost-cutting campaign at the San Francisco-based clothing retailer. "You can bet a number of people at Old Navy will be going through the numbers, doing a careful economic analysis."

Gap is one of dozens of retailers opening earlier and offering special deals during pre-dawn hours on Black Friday - named because it was traditionally when stores became profitable. Sales registered on the day after Thanksgiving are considered an important indicator of U.S. economic confidence.

Toy chain KB Toys Inc. will have 135 stores open at midnight, 30 percent more stores than last year. J.C. Penney Co. stores will open at 4 a.m. Friday, an hour earlier than last year.

Most of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s locations will open at 5 a.m. For the first time, the world's largest retailer has moved many Black Friday promotions to Thursday. The company, which published details of its "secret" holiday deals in a news release Monday, aims to "to catch early bird shoppers as the turkey hits the table."

Malls are getting into the spirit, too: Chelsea Property Group, a division of mall developer Simon Property Group Inc., said all 38 of its outlet centers will open at midnight Thursday, up from 25 a year ago.

Given the relatively low cost of retail labor, big bargains known as doorbusters are no-brainers, said Stifel Nicolaus & Co. retail analyst Richard Jaffe.

"It's a simple math problem: You pay rent 24 hours a day. You own the merchandise," Jaffe said. "The incremental cost of staying open is two sales people at $12 ( EUR 8.10) an hour, plus electricity. You sell two sweaters and you've broken even."

Doorbusters also get priceless free publicity from news organizations that chronicle Black Friday, typically a slow news day.

"You can't discount the sizzle factor," Jaffe said.

Kim Miller, 24, a college student and part-time worker at a mental health clinic in Brooklyn , New York , plans to be out of the house at 3 a.m. Friday and at her local J.C. Penney by 4 a.m. She won't likely return home until 6 p.m.

"I look forward to this the whole year," said Miller, who plans to spend roughly $1,500 ( EUR 1,013) Friday on toys, a computer and household items for her 1-year-old child, siblings and nieces and nephews. "The big advantage is you get a parking space - if you go later, you don't even get a space."

Doorbuster critics struggle to understand why people would rouse themselves to shop.

"I guess I just don't see the purpose of rushing straight from a turkey dinner to the checkout line. It's like you're missing a step," said David Eckstein, 36, a screenwriter in Los Angeles who hopes to do holiday shopping online and avoid malls entirely. "At least let the food coma set in first."

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