Its probably been right around 20 years now, It started off so simply just hitting KBtoys (around 5am open maybe?)for my cousins gifts and maybe RadioShack for a new game/control for my older brother to getting older kids toys and now mostly household/electronics for the home and a few gifts. So many things have changed since then from prep through to execution.
In the early days my dad would go out and buy the paper for us and I'd sit and review it all while helping my mom with whatever prep work she needed while watching the Thanksgiving parade. We could leave the house 30 minutes before stores open to allow time for finding a parking spot and being at the door for opening, we could get everything we wanted in 1 mall from a couple of stores.
By about 2001, I was finding the ads online in advance and buying the paper on my own, attaching my list of wants to the store ad while watching the parade and taking that with me for quick reference. A couple of years later I decided I wanted a new TV and got to BB on Thanksgiving night JUST managing to get one without a ticket. Since then I've spent most of Thanksgiving week online stalking the best deals before going out Thanksgiving/BF mostly missing the parade.
Thankfully I have always been a deal shopper and never NEEDED to BF shop. I do BF for the deals available, between clearance deals year round and online availability I have needed to go out less and less each year. I may never stop BF shopping (even if they took away my JCP commemorative snow globe) but I will definitely be cutting the # of stores I hit and how early I get there.