Thanksgiving Day is around the corner, and that means the launch of the holiday shopping season — or does it?
In recent years, some major retailers looked to get a jump on holiday sales, which traditionally began on Black Friday, by opening their stores on Thanksgiving despite a good deal of criticism that retailing’s “Christmas creep” had gone too far.
This year, a number of chains kept their Thanksgiving plans under wraps, which heightened speculation that turkey day might be reverting to its shop-free roots.
Some stores and mall operators said they would stay closed Thanksgiving, mainly so that their employees could enjoy the holiday. Another likely reason: Sales on Thanksgiving dropped sharply last year, which left the stores with paltry earnings for the day, after accounting for worker holiday overtime, according to the research firm Drummers Ltd.
Macy’s Inc. broke first, saying in mid-October that its 675 full-line stores would open this Thanksgiving at 5 p.m. local time — an hour earlier than last year — in addition to holding the 90th edition of its famed Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Then Kohl’s Corp. jumped on the bandwagon, announcing that its stores would open at 6 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving.
And this week, most other major retailers joined in, announcing Thanksgiving openings as early as 6 a.m. Toys R Us said that it would kick off the season at 5 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving and wouldn’t close its doors again until 11 p.m. the next day, which amounts to 30 hours of shopping.
“Our customers have voted at the doors year after year, and they continue to want the option to get an early start on their holiday shopping lists,” said Joe Venezia, Toys R Us executive vice president of global store operations.
All of which means Thanksgiving Day this year will be a mixed bag for consumers looking to stroll through physical stores. Among those staying closed are Nordstrom Inc., Office Depot Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp., according to the website TheBlackFriday.com.
“No question there’s going to be confusion about which stores are open and which aren’t,” said Ken Perkins, founder of the consulting firm Retail Metrics Inc.
One certainty is that the growth of online shopping, primed with a flurry of Black Friday promotions, will continue Thanksgiving Day regardless of how many consumers stay home after dinner or head to the stores, analysts said.
Thanksgiving Day online sales are expected to jump 15.6 percent from last year’s record $2 billion, according to Adobe Digital Insights. Online sales on Black Friday also are forecast to hit a record $3.1 billion, up 11 percent from last year.
“Those retailers closing their physical storefronts on Thanksgiving Day can still boost their bottom line by driving consumers online and offering special deals,” Becky Tasker, managing analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, said in a statement.
“It also gives consumers a chance to avoid the mad rush in stores, even if that means shopping on mobile devices at the dinner table,” she said.
Further confusing the situation is that some malls might plan to be closed Thanksgiving, but their anchor stores, such as Macy’s, which often have exterior entrances, might be open.
The giant Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., said it will close Thanksgiving Day. CBL & Associates Properties Inc. said it’s also closing 70 of its malls on Thanksgiving.
“We want to bring back the excitement of Black Friday shopping as the true start of the holiday shopping season and allow our employees, retailers and shoppers to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their families,” CBL & Associates Chief Executive Stephen Lebovitz said in a statement.
The outdoor-goods chain Recreational Equipment Inc. is again taking a stand against Thanksgiving Day shopping. For the second consecutive year, REI said it’s staying closed both on Thanksgiving and Black Friday and urged its customers to get outside those days.
“Instead of feeding the Black Friday frenzy, we’re closing our 149 stores and giving our 12,287 employees a paid day off,” REI said on its website.
But Macy’s chose to open Thanksgiving “in response to significant, ongoing customer interest in shopping on Thanksgiving, both at Macy’s and at other retailers,” Macy’s spokeswoman Holly Thomas said.
The move also could reflect the struggling retailer’s plan to close 100 stores after the holiday season. Staying open on Thanksgiving could in effect extend the closeout sale for those properties by one day.
Thomas said Macy’s also surveyed its employees “well in advance” to get their preference about showing up that day, “and we are working diligently to staff Thanksgiving with associates who volunteer.”
The 83,000 seasonal employees Macy’s has hired for the holidays joined the company “with the full understanding that they will work on Thanksgiving Day if our year-round employees choose not to work that day,” Thomas said.
Retailers began opening Thanksgiving in large numbers in 2011-2012. Even though online shopping continued to gain popularity, “there was a premise that everyone loves to shop, so we can finish the turkey, jump up from the table and run to the mall,” said Amanda Nicholson, a professor and retail specialist at Syracuse University.
But after last year, some retail executives and analysts questioned whether opening bricks-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving was worth the trouble.
“The cost of opening in many cases was bigger than the benefits,” Nicholson said.