Some consumers may enjoy the new trend of in-store shopping on Thanksgiving Day, but the vast majority of people are uncomfortable with the idea of retailers opening their doors on the upcoming holiday.
RichRelevance, a company that collects data on customer behavior, surveyed 1,007 Americans and found that 62 percent of consumers "hate" or "dislike" retailers being open on Thanksgiving Day.
Retailers are caught in a tug-of-war as they decide whether to open their doors in advance of Black Friday. Those opening on Thanksgiving point to the convenience of picking up a last-minute item for the Thanksgiving meal or getting a jump on Christmas shopping, while those keeping their doors closed claim to be taking the high road so employees and customers can stay home with their families.
The debate comes at a time when Americans are not only working longer hours than ever before, but are also working on Sundays and national holidays. Stores that stay open on these days may make more money, but it can come at the expense of their employees getting a day off.
Several stores, including Nordstrom, Costco and Apple, are standing their ground by continuing to close their doors on Thanksgiving, but their position is increasingly less common.
“Retailers who are closing on Thanksgiving Day make giving their employees a day off sound like a perk," said Gregg Garcia, the vice-president of marketing for the National Human Resource Association. "It is sad that they have to put it out there on what they are doing for their employees.”
Carol Sladek, a partner with the human capital and management consulting service Aon Hewitt, said the public has long had an expectation that hospitals, hotels, restaurants and even gas stations offering the essentials of housing, food, transportation or health care will be open on a holiday.
But most forms of retail fall into a gray area where businesses need to ask themselves, "Are we staying open for customer needs or wants?" Sladek said.
Wal-Mart has been open on Thanksgiving for more than 25 years, creating a public service expectation for panicked customers who forgot the cranberry sauce or need more food to serve unexpected guests.
"We (Wal-Mart) consider ourselves in the service industry just like you would in the airlines or a fuel station," said spokeswoman Kayla Whaling. "We are here to provide great service and offers for our customers."
But Wal-Mart sells more than food, and it's the availability of those items that has prompted other big box competitors like Target, Best Buy, Kmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Toys "R" Us to open their doors on Thanksgiving. This year, some are opening even earlier than last year, around 5 or 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
Adrienne O'Hara, a Toys "R" Us spokeswoman, said the national chain is opening on Thanksgiving for a second year.
"We opened up our stores on Thanksgiving evening really as an opportunity for so many of our customers who are eager to get out there and snap up some of those great savings, but also the opportunity to have them shop as a family," O'Hara said.
Best Buy CEO Hubert Joy gave shareholders in June another motive for letting customers shop the appliance/electronics giant on the holiday: profit.
"Back in November of 2012, so the first Thanksgiving I was there, I was struck by the fact that, you know, we opened at midnight, and our competitors Target, Wal-Mart were open the previous evening," he said. "Clearly, trying to win the battle without playing is difficult. I think it’s impossible."
A Target representative also mentioned its competitors as a reason for opening on Thanksgiving, and O'Hara said the holiday shopping season is her store's "time to shine." But most of the retailers the Deseret News interviewed declined to answer questions about how much money they stood to make, emphasizing instead that they were opening as a service to customers.
Working the holiday
As with consumers, employees' views are mixed on whether working the holiday is a good or bad thing.
Garcia, who has worked in the retail industry, explained there are employees who want to work Thanksgiving Day for a variety of reasons, including pay incentives, different holiday traditions and cultural backgrounds in which Thanksgiving is not a holiday.
A Montana Wal-Mart worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he does not speak for the company, explained that working the holidays and pocketing the extra pay works for him and others who don't have family in the area to celebrate with.
"If I have to work a little bit on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) that's OK," he said.
Whaling explained that Wal-Mart employees know the company's holiday policy (it is only closed on Christmas Day) and the company rewards those who work the holiday shifts.
“They (the associates) work really hard around and throughout the year, so what we do to help and thank them is through a Thanksgiving dinner, a 25 percent discount, as well as the holiday pay," she said. "Our associates enjoy receiving the extra incentives and truly enjoy working during the event."
Sticking with tradition
Could retailers like Nordstrom, Patagonia, Dillard’s, TJ Maxx, Costco Wholesale, GameStop, Menards, Petco, Cabela’s, REI and BJ’s Wholesale Club that have announced they are staying closed on Thanksgiving lose out?
Nathan Borowski, spokesman for outdoor recreation retailer Cabelas, doesn't think so.
“We are receiving favorable and supportive comments from customers on social media thanking us for respecting the holiday — and our employees,” he said.
Sladek believes there is a soft-dollar advantage for some retailers to give their employees a day off.
"There certainly is a benefit for employees having a day off to rest and recharge," she said.
David W. Ballard, the assistant executive director for organizational excellence for the American Psychological Association also believes that employees benefit from a holiday break or a day off.
Ballard said that in APA's recent survey only about half of the U.S. workforce said it felt valued by its employer. About a third of U.S. workers said work interferes with their home or family time. Ballard suggests that when employees get a day off, they feel valued by their employers. This feeling of value can increase productivity and job satisfaction while reducing absenteeism.
A recent survey by Accenture, a management consulting service company, found holiday priorities shifting among the public. The poll revealed 32 percent of people this year said one reason for not shopping in a physical store on Thanksgiving Day was to avoid disrupting time with family, compared with 41 percent in 2013.
Just in the last year, it seems, the demand for quality family time is lessening, and one factor may be a fast-paced, work-driven mindset. People are working more hours than ever before. The typical middle-income family worked an average of 11 more hours per week in 2006 than in 1979, the Center for American Progress reported.
Retailers report that their in-store consumer surveys show that people want the ability to shop online and be in stores at early hours to catch the best deals. As popular stores cater to these demands by giving consumers access to their products around clock, they may also impact America's work and home environments.
Garcia explained that many families have a tradition of getting up early on Black Friday, but now the early openings on Thanksgiving Day could water down other holiday traditions as families cut short the stay-at-home activities to make sure they don't lose out on shopping deals.
He said many stores say they need to open on Thanksgiving Day for financial reasons, but the Internet has online sales nearly 24 hours a day, and people can wait for Black Friday to get good deals.
Garcia also said many employees end up working long hours the night before Thanksgiving in preparation for Black Friday, so Thanksgiving Day serves as a day of relaxation for those employees. Garcia believes that when stores open on Thanksgiving Day, it takes that day away from not only employees but their families too.
As Ballard said, "It is healthy for employees to get a day off during the holidays, especially for Thanksgiving Day because it really is a time to show gratitude."
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