To Open or Remain Closed on Thanksgiving: A Case for Both

For many years, it was unthinkable for businesses to open on the actual Thanksgiving holiday. When Thanksgiving arrived, robust cities turned to ghost towns and families hunkered down and spent the day consuming extreme amounts of food and watching football. If you forgot the cranberry sauce, you were out of luck. Basically the only people who were forced to work were gas station clerks, movie theater ushers, football players and police. Those were the glory days.

As the digital revolution took hold of our culture and we grew incredibly impatient as a society, retailers have inched closer and closer to cutting Thanksgiving short in favor of starting the Black Friday shopping craze earlier.

Recently, Macy’s announced they would open their doors to start Black Friday deals at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday for the first time in 155 years. This unleashed a whirlwind of debate. Other retailers are deciding if they will follow suit. So, here’s the case for both sides.

Open on Thanksgiving Day

People looking to blame someone for having to cover a shift before they slept off all the turkey they ate can blame Black Friday shoppers. Black Friday is a serious sport to some shoppers. They lace up their good tennis shoes and prepare to do whatever and go wherever they must to save.

About 139.4 million adults visited store websites over the 4-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2012, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Individual shoppers shelled out more money — spending $423 during that weekend, up from $398 in 2011. Total retail spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase from $52.4 billion in 2011, according to the NRF. With customer demand and spending on the rise, retailers don’t want to miss out and hand that business to their competitors.

For one big retailer, balancing demand and shopping safety has forced them to reevaluate their Black Friday program.

In 2008, a Walmart employee was trampled to death in the early morning hours of Black Friday as hundreds of people flooded into the stores when the store doors were opened. This terrible and tragic event made Walmart to rethink Black Friday. They had to strategize to create a shopping atmosphere that was less like a frenzy and safer for employees and shoppers so this would never happen again.

In years following, they began posting cops around the store to maintain order. Also, they decided to open the store on Thanksgiving before the deals started, so hundreds of people wouldn’t have to enter the store at the same time. This seemed a very logical and necessary response after what happened. After all, Walmart is the largest retailer in America and often offers some of the largest Black Friday savings. Walmart needs to remain competitive and offer their deals at strategic times. However unfortunate it is that Walmart employees have to lose out on having the day off, their safety is paramount and opening early has made the event safer.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is just as much a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey and watching the Dallas Cowboys play after the big meal. The tradition goes back to 1924. It’s been featured in popular American films and even an episode of Seinfeld. The parade’s a great promotional and branding tool for the store. Every year millions come to New York to watch it live and millions more watch it on TV around the country on Thanksgiving morning.

The parade creates some different opportunities and predicaments for Macy’s.

Women’s Wear Daily reported Macy’s based its decision to open on Thanksgiving after watching crowds gathering in front of New York City’s Macy’s in Herald Square following the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, seeing its doors were shut and then moving to competitor and Manhattan neighbor Lord & Taylor, which opened on Thursday at 10 a.m. By opening on Thanksgiving, Macy’s is breaking an 155-year-old tradition and thereby forcing employees to work, but it’s hard to reconcile turning away desiring customers after your biggest promotional event of the year and handing them to your competitors.

If the demand is there for your store, why not open? As with the recent announcements, if you don’t open another retailer will.

Stay Closed Until Black Friday

Opening on Thanksgiving is just plain greedy.

Many retail stores are open 363 days a year. Retail staff used to only be guaranteed two days off a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Two days they were guaranteed the chance to spend unrestricted time with family or loved ones, put their feet up and rest.

Setting this precedent hurts shoppers and employees. Employees lose out on time with their families and a relaxing holiday. Shoppers who want the deals must cut their holiday time short to shop. I love a good deal as much as the next person. I look forward to the anticipation and fun of getting something at a great deal on Black Friday just as much as the next person, but Thanksgiving traditions are important as well. Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. They call it Black Friday because it’s supposed to take place on Friday.

Just because certain shoppers will come doesn’t mean you need to open Thanksgiving. We live a digital world. Some people will get a lot more digital on Black Friday with the help of online deals. The benefit of a digital world is that most retailers, especially larger ones, have ecommerce stores. Retailers can use online stores to launch cyber deals on Thanksgiving, separate from the in-store Black Friday deals, if they want to get those people shopping.

Following Macy’s lead, Kohl’s announced it would open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, which is the store’s earliest start ever to Black Friday festivities. Stores will be open for 28 hours straight, from 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 28 through midnight Friday nationwide. J.C. Penney also announced it would open 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

I’ve been to Kohl’s on Black Friday. In years past, they opened in the early hours of Friday around 4 or 5 a.m. Waiting in line with hundreds of others and storming in the doors of Kohl’s at the opening isn’t a fun experience. Kohl’s stores aren’t designed to accommodate that many people shopping at once with small aisles and a limited amount cash registers, of course many less than Walmart. Having lived through that experience, I can understand why they’d consider following Walmart’s lead in opening the store before the deals kicked off, but it’s hard to understand following Macy’s logic.

Kohl’s and J.C. Penney choosing to open and possibly launch doorbuster deals at the same time as each other and other competitors is a gamble. Walmart and Target don’t usually even dare to schedule big deals at the same time, so as to not eliminate people that want to shop at both chains.

Small business isn’t interested in following the trends of big box retailers and most will not open on Thanksgiving. Small businesses aren’t trying to compete with the malls on Black Friday anyways. They really can’t compete. Small businesses have Small Business Saturday created by American Express on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Small businesses have their own Black Friday-type deals and events on this day.

What’s next? As retailers continue to get more competitive and think only about the bottom line, we come dangerously close to eliminating it as a holiday altogether. I can’t imagine a world for future generations where working on Thanksgiving every year is the norm and the don’t experience the holiday as we do now.

What do you think? Is opening on Thanksgiving the right move for retail stores?

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