Kavita Kumar/St. Louis Post-Dispatch—And … they’re off.
The Cardinals weren’t the only ones in the midst of a dogfight. Faced with what is shaping up to be a lackluster holiday shopping season, retailers are pulling out all the stops in an effort to get more customers through their doors.
So it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that Macy’s upped the ante earlier this week by announcing that most of its stores will be opening on Thanksgiving Day for the first time.
Still, a collective groan was heard when the retailer said it would open its doors at 8 p.m. this year — matching the time that Toys R Us, Walmart and Sears rolled out their first round of doorbusters last year.
A business professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut immediately lashed out at the news, saying that retailers’ obsession with opening stores on Thanksgiving Day is “ridiculous.”
“Do they really believe that (hordes) of shoppers will forgo Thanksgiving celebrations to buy items at a discount?” said David Cadden in a news release. “As Talleyrand once said, ‘This is worse than the crime, it’s a huge blunder.’”
The only thing is, judging from the last couple of years, many shoppers will, in fact, show up.
I’ve covered Black Friday for the last three years. And I’ve interviewed dozens of shoppers who finished their dinners early to stand in line outside of big-box stores that were offering discounts on flat-screen TVs and iPads.
Last year, many of those in line said they didn’t like the ever-earlier openings that encouraged them to shift their Thanksgiving dinners to earlier in the day. But there they were nonetheless.
Despite some grumbling, many of them — with the exception of a spouse or sibling who was dragged along against their will — actually professed to be enjoying themselves. After all, shopping is a hobby for many people. And defenders note, not everyone likes to watch football, so why not let those folks shop instead?
Some shoppers interviewed last year even said they liked the earlier openings around 8 or 9 p.m. because they didn’t want to stay up all night and weren’t interested in hitting the midnight sales or waking up before the crack of dawn for the 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. sales.
The folks who may not be as chipper about it, of course, are the employees who don’t necessarily have as much choice in the matter. In the last couple of years, retail workers have organized petitions objecting to the earlier openings that take them away from family gatherings.
John Challenger, who tracks hiring and layoffs with the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, noted that the public criticism about earlier and earlier sales doesn’t seem to have translated in decreased traffic. Otherwise, Macy’s — and others to follow — wouldn’t be taking these steps.
“The early opening will only increase the need for temporary seasonal workers, who are likely to be the ones stuck working on Thanksgiving Day, as those with more seniority tend to get first preference when it comes to assigning holiday hours,” he said in a news release.
The reaction among Macy’s employees who spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times this week ran the gamut. One worker was excited to get the extra hours. Another said she would prefer to spend the holiday instead with her family.
For its part, Macy’s said it has begun planning earlier to allow associates time to review available shifts throughout the holiday season so they can volunteer for the shifts they would prefer. But that doesn’t sound like workers will necessarily be guaranteed to have Thanksgiving off if they don’t want to work that holiday.
Macy’s won’t likely be on its own. In the coming weeks, retail experts expect that other stores will announce opening times that match Macy’s — or even might inch a bit earlier.
“That’s my bet,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst. “Or some might even say we’ll open at 6 o’clock, thinking let’s get you into (my store) before you go to Macy’s.”
Last year, Macy’s was among the mass of retailers that opened at midnight. Among those who did the same were Best Buy, Kohl’s and many shopping malls. (Target opened at 9 p.m.)
One interesting piece of the debate is who is calling the shots on these earlier openings. Retailers have been saying for years — as Macy’s did in its announcement — that they are doing so in response to customers who prefer the earlier sales. Meanwhile, some cash-pinched shoppers say they feel like they have no choice but to show up for the good deals so they can make their children happy on Christmas morning.
But consumers can help sway things. If no one shows up on Thanksgiving night, retailers would rethink their strategy.
In 2010, for example, Sears opened its stores from 7 a.m. to noon on Thanksgiving Day. But the experiment was short-lived and was not repeated the following year. The company said at the time that customers told them they prefer to spend that day with their families. In other words, the sales volume did not justify the unconventional hours. (But Sears did open at 8 p.m. last year — presumably after those Thanksgiving dinners were over.)
Green said the projections of a ho-hum holiday season in terms of sales are probably another factor.
“It’s not expected to be the best holiday season,” he said. “It wasn’t expected to be so even before some of the turmoil with the debt ceiling and government shutdown. Consumers are going to be very wary of overspending this year.”
So retailers are trying to do what they can to be competitive and to make sure they get their piece of the pie, he said.
On top of that, Green noted that shoppers will have five fewer shopping days and one less weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, making retailers even more nervous.
But still, he wondered if the folks who will be doing a lot of the cooking on Thanksgiving Day — and who also make up the biggest shopping demographic — will want to hit the stores afterward.
“If women put Thanksgiving dinner on the table — cooked the whole day — is it even feasible to be going out at 8 o’clock at night to shop?”
Last year, many said yes. We shall see whether they do it again this year.