Backlash building against Black Friday starting day early
Duane Marsteller/The Tennessean
Laura Stansberry plans to have a traditional Thanksgiving centered on family and food. Hitting the Black Friday sales immediately after dessert, however, is not on her to-do list.
“It takes away from what the holiday is about,” the West Nashville woman said. “(Retailers) don’t need to open that early. The consumer is going to come to you, no matter when you open.”
That sentiment is fueling a backlash against some retailers’ plans to push back the holiday selling season’s start deeper into Thanksgiving. But retail analysts say they expect the recent trend to continue as traditional brick-and-mortar stores fight to protect market share from online and discount competitors.
Much is at stake: The National Retail Federation expects U.S. shoppers will spend $586.1 billion this holiday season, roughly 10 percent coming during the Black Friday weekend. For some retailers, the holiday season accounts for as much as 40 percent of their annual sales and could mean the difference between losing money and turning a profit.
To draw shoppers and spur sales, retailers have long offered massive discounts and other limited-time promotions to launch holiday sales. Such tactics historically started in the wee early-morning hours on the day after Thanksgiving, but in recent years retailers have been moving it earlier to Thanksgiving night.
Kmart, Sears, Toys ‘R Us and Wal-Mart plan to open at 8 p.m. this Thanksgiving, while Target will open an hour later. All are opening up to eight hours earlier than they did last year.
But some consumers and employees are pushing back, mostly in social media and online circles, against what they called “Black Friday creep” or “Black Thursday.”
More than two dozen petitions have been launched on Change.org urging retailers to ‘save’ their employees’ Thanksgiving by not opening until the day after. Several Facebook pages are urging shoppers to bypass retailers who open on Thanksgiving.
And Walmart workers, with the backing of two workers’ rights groups, are using Facebook, Twitter and other social media to organize a potential Black Friday walkout against the world’s largest retailer.
“I see it as a threat to Thanksgiving itself,” said Brian Christopher Zarka of Ceres, Calif., who launched a Boycott Black Thursday page on Facebook. “Retailers don’t have to be open that day. There’s no need for it.”
The backlash isn’t new. Last year, a Target worker in Omaha, Neb., launched an online protest against the retailer’s decision to open at midnight — four hours earlier than the previous year. His online petition on Change.org garnered 200,649 signatures and spawned more than 150 similar efforts.
A similar petition this year by a different Target employee had more than 212,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. Among those who signed was Celeste Brodeur of Clarksville, Tenn.. who wrote: “The quest for the almighty dollar has become ridiculous. Let employees have their holidays, too.”
But the Minneapolis-based company is sticking with the earlier start time, saying it was based on customer feedback and “carefully evaluated with our guests, team and the business in mind.” Target said about a third of its 355,000 employees are scheduled to work on Thanksgiving, the majority voluntarily.
“We heard from our guests that they look forward to kicking off their holiday shopping with deal-hunting on Thanksgiving night,” said Kathee Tesija, executive vice president of merchandising for Target.
Consumer surveys seem to indicate otherwise. In a 2011 ConsumerSearch.com poll, 87 percent said retailers should stay closed on Thanksgiving. Just 10 percent of those responding to a recent PriceGrabber.com survey said they planned to hit the stores on Thanksgiving this year, compared to 42 percent who said they would on Black Friday.
But consumers don’t always do what they say they will do, said Steve Posavac, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.
“Bottom line, there are lots of consumers who love these sales and they are going to show up whenever the sales begin,” he said.
For some retailers, that still means Friday morning. Several, including Home Depot, JC Penney, Lowe’s and Sam’s Club, won’t open until 5 a.m. or later on that day.
Tractor Supply Co., the farm and ranch retailer based in Brentwood, Tenn., considered an earlier Black Friday start but decided to open at 6 a.m. this year like it has for at least the past five years, spokesman Randy Guiler said.
“We feel comfortable about opening at 6,” he said. “That’s primarily in consideration of our team members. We want to give our team members the day off for Thanksgiving.”
But the looming expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and a Social Security payroll tax break, plus uncertainty over the federal “fiscal cliff” and the job market, has retailers worried that shoppers will be more frugal this holiday season. The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will rise by 4.1 percent this year, well below last year’s 5.6-percent gain.
As a result, retailers are trying to gain as much market share as they can – and one way to do that is to be the first one to open, Posavac said. “Being the first considered brand, or first visited store, is a huge advantage,” he said.
Another concern for brick-and-mortar retailers is online shopping’s continued rise, said Jeff Green, a national retail consultant based in Phoenix. The National Retail Federation estimates online sales will top $96 billion this holiday season, a 12-percent increase from last year.
“They want shoppers to have as much of their Christmas lists filled before Cyber Monday comes,” Green said, referring the heavy online shopping day. Still, the earlier store openings really don’t generate additional sales but merely pull them forward instead, he said.
Some shoppers, though, welcome the earlier opening times. They say it will allow them to get their holiday shopping done sooner and get a better night’s sleep.
“I like the idea,” Lee Merritt of Nashville said. “It gives you more of a chance to go in and get your things early. I will be at Wal-Mart at 8 p.m. (Thanksgiving).”