Forget dessert after the turkey dinner this year, Macy’s is opening its doors starting at 8:00p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

For the first time in its 155-year history, most Macy’s (M) stores nationwide will be opening four hours before the official start of Black Friday.

While the early open could put a damper on some consumers eating plans, retail experts say the move shows how important the end-of-year shopping season is for retailers and how they are going to go to extreme measures to get shoppers to their check-out counters.

Peter Shankman, author of Nice Companies Finish First, says the move is prudent on Macy’s part, as the store is likely getting clobbered by ecommerce  giants like Amazon (AMZN).

“The traffic just isn’t there and they are trying to capitalize on the concept of making this an event,” Shankman says. “It’s not just a shopping day.”

Retail sales numbers for November and December are expected to rise 2.4% this year, less than the 3% increase last year and the 4% increase in 2011 and 2010, according to ShopperTrak, a store traffic measurement firm. This drop is bad news for retailers since  20% of annual retail activity takes place during this holiday shopping period.

ShopperTrak released its data in mid-September, pulling in stats from more than 60,000 global locations in a proprietary model. Sales and traffic in apparel and electronic retailers will mirror national trends at 2.8% and 2.0% respectively.

While Macy’s may think the early start will bring in extra foot traffic, Kristin Bentz, executive director at Private Equity Firm PMG Venture Group, says it looks desperate.

“I have been saying how bad things really are,” Bentz says. “The debt ceiling is looming, and while Macy’s is one of the few publicly-held retailers that did well [during the downturn], it just seems like, is nothing sacred?”

Macy’s in New York City is known for the major Thanksgiving Day Parade it puts on annually, Shankman says, so the brand may capitalize and use the event to let viewers know its doors will be open that evening.

“Macy’s will want its doors open as early as it can in order to prop up sales,” he says. “Retail numbers aren’t in the greatest space right now and the government shutdown isn’t helping.”

Bentz adds consumerism is now a 24-hour business, and that Macy’s doesn’t necessarily need to open its doors earlier to bring in more shoppers. “All of these events and things they try to make us shop for, we don’t really have to,” she says. “A lot of retailers haven’t figured that out yet.”

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