While shoppers snagged early deals, some workers were expected to protest the earlier hours. In fact, a New York-based union-backed group of retail workers called Retail Action Project is planning protests in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Thanksgiving in front of several stores, including AnnTaylor, Forever 21 and others that are opening at midnight on Black Friday and earlier.
"It shows that the companies are not valuing their workers. They're looking to their workers to squeeze out more profits," said Carrie Gleason, director of Retail Action Project.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has been one of the biggest targets of protests against holiday hours. Many of the company's stores are open 24 hours, but the company is offering early bird specials that once were reserved for Black Friday at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving instead.
The issue is part of a broader campaign against the company's treatment of workers that's being waged by a union-backed group called OUR Walmart, which includes former and current workers. The group is staging demonstrations and walkouts at hundreds of stores on Black Friday.
Mary Pat Tifft, a Wal-Mart employee in Kenosha, Wis., who is a member of OUR Walmart, started an online petition on signon.org that has about 34,000 signatures. "This Thanksgiving, while millions of families plan to spend quality time with their loved ones, Wal-Mart associates have been told we will be stocking shelves and preparing sales starting at 8 p.m.," she wrote on the site.
Shortly after midnight, OUR Walmart said workers walked off their jobs in stores in Dallas, Miami and Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday. But a spokeswoman for the group did not immediately give numbers on how many workers participated.
For their part, retailers say they are giving shoppers what they want. Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the discounter learned from shoppers that they want to start shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner. Then, they want to have time to go to bed before they wake up to head back out to the stores.
Still, Tovar said that Wal-Mart works to accommodate its workers' requests for different working hours. "We spent a lot of time talking to them, trying to figure out when would be the best time for our events," he said.
Kathee Tesija, Target's executive vice president of merchandising, said Target's 9 p.m. opening struck "a perfect balance" for its customers. When asked whether it's faced any criticism from Target employees, she noted that the chain also works with workers to accommodate their needs. But, ultimately the company serves the customer.
"We thought long and hard about when the right opening time would be," she said, adding that Target "wants to make sure we are competitive."
Krisher contributed to this report from Toledo, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Mich.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.