Bethany Clough / The Fresno Bee – Black Friday is different this year.
Not only is it really Black Thursday — also known as Thanksgiving — because so many stores are opening earlier than ever but the debate over it is louder than ever.
And Black Friday is not the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season anymore, with deals coming early and continuing well past the one day.
An estimated 140 million people will shop between Thursday and Sunday, about 61% of all people surveyed in a National Retail Federation/Prosper Insights & Analytics survey.
The earliest of openings happens at 6 a.m. Thursday at Kmart, which has stayed open all day on Thanksgiving in recent years. It’s followed by Forever 21 at Fashion Fair opening at 9:30 a.m.
But the real onslaught of door busters starts with Michaels and Old Navy opening at 4 p.m., followed by Best Buy, JCPenney and Toys R Us, opening at 5 p.m., and even more at 6 p.m.
The discounts and openings stretch throughout Thursday evening with Fashion Fair opening at 6 p.m. and the Tulare Outlet Center at 10 p.m. Stores that refuse to open on Thanksgiving will hold their door busters Friday morning.
“Remember when you couldn’t even get a parking space?” Green recalled. “Now you can. It’s actually a better scenario for the consumer.”
But the frenzy over bargains leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. Pledges to not shop on Thanksgiving and reminders to shop local are circulating all over Facebook.
Some retailers refuse to open on Thanksgiving Day and are using it as a selling point to appeal to like-minded shoppers. GameStop will be closed Thursday, its CEO saying “out of respect for our associates and their families.” A Costco spokesman told the website Think Progress, “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families.”
Scott Hancock of Fresno makes a point of not shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, he and his husband focus on spending time with friends and family and putting up Christmas decorations.
“We want people to be able to come, hang out, enjoy and not have that pressure of tick tock, there’s a Walmart sale at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning,” he says.
And, he says, if fewer people shop, maybe one less employee will be needed to work that day and can spend it with family instead.
But millions others will be out shopping Thursday — an estimated 25.6 million people, according to NRF. That’s about 18.3% of all people who plan to shop this weekend — and about 5 percentage points fewer than last year.
The opening times keep creeping earlier because stores are competing for shoppers’ dollars — and because shoppers show up.
For many families, shopping after the Thanksgiving meal has become a tradition, said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a conference call earlier this season.
“The whole game is engaging with customers, how and when and where they want to be engaged with. Sometimes that’s opening the store on Thanksgiving night,” he said. “I think it will continue as long as it’s clear customers will embrace it.”
For Fashion Fair, the 6 p.m. opening was about logistics. With its big department stores opening at 6 p.m. or earlier, it made sense to open the rest of the mall at 6 p.m. so shoppers could get from one store to another, said Fashion Fair senior marketing manager Kelly Tallant-Martin.
All but a handful of the smaller retailers will open at 6. The stores are required to be open by midnight.
Such opening times often change and will be updated on Fashion Fair’s website through Wednesday; the mall app will have more up-to-date information.
Pros and cons
The issue of shopping on Thanksgiving isn’t black and white.
Though some people say they want employees to be able to spend Thanksgiving with their families, many workers jump at the chance to work when they’re paid time and half, said Green, the retail consultant.
“It’s not hard to get people to work on Thanksgiving because you’re giving them holiday pay,” he said. “The hard part is getting them to work in the middle of the night.”
The backlash, too, is nuanced. Tallant-Martin said she hasn’t heard any pushback from shoppers about opening on Thanksgiving.
That’s probably because the backlash is coming from people who wouldn’t shop that day anyway, Green said: “The backlash you hear is not from the likely shopper. “The people who hate (Thanksgiving openings) are the ones making these comments, but they’re not the ones who would be shopping anyway.”
People who view shopping as a sport will show up at Thanksgiving openings, he said.
For those who hate shopping, the weekend after this one is the best time to shop, Green said. It’s typically the slowest weekend of the holiday season and retailers will be trying to lure customers in with deals, he said.
Small Business Saturday
The don’t-ruin-Thanksgiving crowd will be coming out this weekend for Small Business Saturday, too. The day was started in 2010 by American Express, which gave customers using its credit card a $25 credit to shop that day. At first the day consisted mostly of local retailers throwing a “Small Business Saturday” sign in their windows.
But the day has dovetailed into a growing shop local movement and mom-and-pop stores are increasingly planning events around the day.
Petunia’s Place bookstore at Palm and Bullard avenues is hosting book signings from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with three local illustrators and authors: Doug Hansen, Janice Stevens and Pat Hunter.
The Brush and Easel Gallery at 1476 W. Shaw Ave. is hosting a “Shop Smalz” event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with live music, food, Champagne punch, and artist visits. The gallery and store will be selling 12-inch by 12-inch paintings all priced under $100 and gifts from local artisans such as wearable art, throw pillows, vases and bowls.
Many other local retailers have sales that day.
Regardless of when people shop, the season overall is expected to be a healthy one. The NRF is predicting a 4.1% increase in sales this year, which is well above the 10-year average increase. The economy is continuing to recover and shoppers have more money in their pockets as gas prices fall.
Gas prices are nearly 50 cents lower per gallon than they were last year. And shoppers also aren’t grappling with a government shutdown and severe weather nationwide like they were last year.
And even though the Valley has higher unemployment and more poverty than much of the country, that just means shoppers will be seeking out those door buster deals to give as gifts even more.
“They’ll buy them on sale,” Green said. “Your market is going to be that much more price sensitive.”