Is it time for retailers to stop the Thanksgiving madness?

Photo: hhgregg
Oct 12, 2016

The consumer electronics retailer, hhgregg, is the latest retail chain to announce it is giving store employees the day off on Thanksgiving. As the company’s president and chief executive, Bob Riesbeck, tells it, the decision was the right thing to do for the company and its employees. “It’s time,” he told The Associated Press, “to stop the madness.”

While hhgregg stores will be closed on Thanksgiving, the company’s e-commerce site will be up and running. Stores will open for business on 7:00 a.m. on Black Friday.

According to Mr. Riesbeck, conversations with store managers led him to conclude that hhgregg will do “exceedingly well” during the Thanksgiving week and Black Friday weekend even with stores closed on the Thursday. Critics of earlier openings on Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend in past years have argued that it does little to increase sales or market share for retailers while putting more stress on workers and increasing labor costs.

Hhgregg was among the retailers who pursued earlier openings. According to the AP report, the chain has opened stores at 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving the past two years while closing at midnight. It then reopened on Black Friday at 7:00 a.m.

REI made a major public relations splash last year when it gave 12,000 workers Black Friday off with pay so they could spend the time outdoors with family and friends.

In announcing the company’s #OptOutside campaign, REI CEO Jerry Stritzke said, “We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles.”

The website recently published a list of retailers who have chosen to stay closed on Thanksgiving. Here’s a partial list of those keeping the lights off:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Cabela’s
  • Crate and Barrel
  • Dillard’s
  • GameStop
  • Guitar Center
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Home Depot
  • HomeGoods
  • IKEA
  • Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores
  • Lowe’s
  • Mall of America
  • Marshalls
  • Menards
  • Mills Fleet Farm
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • C. Richard & Son
  • Patagonia
  • Petco
  • PetSmart
  • Pier 1 Imports
  • Raymour and Flanagan Furniture
  • Sierra Trading Post
  • Staples
  • The Container Store
  • J. Maxx
  • Tractor Supply
  • Von Maur


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see a stronger business case for retailers staying open or closed on Thanksgiving? What do you see as the biggest benefits or drawbacks with the decision to stay open on the holiday?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The biggest Black Friday shoppers won’t deal with the indignity of the 4 a.m. Hunger Games. They’ll shop from home with their families."
"It simply doesn’t make economic or staffing sense to have the doors open for small and midsize retailers on Thanksgiving."
"Retailers should be selling experience not shopping. That’s what REI did last year."

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17 Comments on "Is it time for retailers to stop the Thanksgiving madness?"

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Bob Phibbs

As I quoted in this post today, Why Malls Should Be Closed For Thanksgiving — Being Open Punishes Small Retailers, in 2014, sales on Thanksgiving/Black Friday fell 11 percent, primarily because retailers started their sales in early November, diluting the weekend’s impact. And last year, for the first time, more shoppers went online than to stores, mitigating the benefit to being open for so many hours.

With that acknowledgement, I have to ask …

Why do so many malls still open themselves up to bad PR from millions of Americans offended by the encroachment of seasonal shopping on this national, non-religious, family-oriented holiday?

Dick Seesel

Some of the biggest players (Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and Best Buy) apparently still plan to open on Thanksgiving. But the pendulum is swinging back, and the Mall of America’s announcement that it plans to close on Thursday will be a major influence on other mall operators. It seems clear that the push for earlier “early bird” hours on Black Friday (followed by midnight openings, followed by Thursday openings) has had a diminishing effect on sales — by draining any sense of urgency out of Friday morning shopping. (And the availability of goods online hasn’t helped, either.)

It’s hard for the retailers who insist on being open for Thanksgiving to be the first one to blink, but it seems clear that consumer sentiment is tugging them in that direction.

Mark Ryski

Retailers are coming to terms with the fact that their people matter. I believe that closing on Thanksgiving will provide these retailers with a more engaged and motivated workforce who, in the long term, will deliver a better in-store experience and ultimately enable the retailer to deliver better results. The obvious drawback is that shoppers have become accustomed to shopping during the holiday, and some of these shoppers will simply go to the stores that are open. Retailers need to take a hard look at the cost/benefit of the decision, but it will be difficult to quantify the financial impact of a happier workforce.

Lee Peterson

With online shopping, the idea of keeping stores open on a family-centric holiday seems archaic. I’m sure it especially does to digital natives. Wouldn’t you rather do something fun with the kids?

That was a dumb idea. Let’s admit our mistake and move on.

Jasmine Glasheen
Jasmine Glasheen
Content Marketing Manager, Surefront
5 years 8 months ago

Customers didn’t shop Black Friday for the experience. They do it for the deals. Now that they can get those deals online there’s no reason to fight for a parking space at 4 a.m.

The retail stores opting to remain closed on Thanksgiving are industry leaders. Of course, they’re opting to remain closed on major holidays because by doing so they stand out as companies that care for their employees. Retailers that remain open, in contrast, don’t look too good to humanitarian shoppers.

Plus, the biggest Black Friday shoppers won’t deal with the indignity of the 4 a.m. Hunger Games. They’ll shop from home with their families at stores that know how to market that they care.

Graeme McVie

With the rise of holiday sales starting before Thanksgiving and the increase in e-commerce it feels like the importance of Thanksgiving/Black Friday sales has eroded to some degree. When you add in some of the stories of the unpleasant shopping experience to get some of the doorbuster sales it feels like retailers and shoppers alike are re-thinking their strategies and plans for Thanksgiving/Black Friday.
There are some stores and some shoppers who will still benefit from stores being open on Thanksgiving day, and each retailer will need to make their own decision based upon their own shoppers and competitive situation. But the benefit to workers from a day of rest in the middle of a crazy period of shopping activity could yield some healthy benefits for retailers while the downside of potentially losing sales is mitigated by e-commerce and the elongated holiday shopping season.

Tom Dougherty
This is a tough one. A question that asks us all to be dispassionate in our analysis. How do we weigh the business advantages of being open on Thanksgiving and the social desire to have some shopping days held sacredly off limits? A PR coup for REI does not translate into increases on sales. When I think on it dispassionately, I don’t know if shopping with friends and family members is any worse a form of entertainment than spending the holiday in front of a football game. Do fans bemoan the fact that the Detroit Lions don’t have Thanksgiving to spend with their families? I honestly don’t think that frenzied shoppers give a hoot about the lives of the poor salespeople. In the materialistic world that we all live in today, it might be a sad commentary but you should give to your customers what they want. That’s how you win. If your customers want to break down your doors at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day then you are making a perfectly correct business decision… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann

Jasmine Glasheen said it best — “the biggest Black Friday shoppers won’t deal with the indignity of the 4 a.m. Hunger Games. They’ll shop from home with their families at stores that know how to market that they care.” Perfectly stated and the sooner brands figure this out the sooner they’ll reap all the benefits.

Ralph Jacobson

Always a tough question. For physical stores, and having been a supermarket manager in the ’80s, I can say that there can sometimes be a happy medium in response to this question. Our stores used to be open on Thanksgiving Day, however they closed their doors at 2 p.m. That way you give those folks who “need” to shop on the holiday somewhere to go, yet you don’t interrupt the most important time of that day for your staff.

I do love that more and more retailers are choosing to take the whole day off, though! Fully support it. I don’t think they’ll lose any measurable business.

Mohamed Amer, PhD
Mohamed Amer, PhD
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
5 years 8 months ago

Business cases are poor in capturing the intangibles even when they seek proxies. Of course, you lose store sales when you’re closed, but you can still take orders online. And it’s never a zero-sum game; you’re not going to lose customers — your brand can actually benefit.

The biggest upside for closing on Thanksgiving is the message you send to your employees and the community in honoring the meaning of this holiday. It’s a great way to build goodwill all around.

Lee Kent

Consumers will shop wherever and whenever the deals are offered. So why not give your employees a break and don’t offer those deals on Thanksgiving in the stores? I guess there is also something to be said about the majority though. If everyone else is offering deals in-store on Thanksgiving Day, other retailers will want to take advantage of the crowd. This might make the decision a tough one.

My money and gut say that most shoppers would just as soon have a day off too so hold the deals until Friday and I’ll bet they will come.

For my 2 cents.

Brian Kelly
5 years 8 months ago

With two more days between Thanksgiving and Christmas versus last year, retailers are emboldened to “give their employees a day off to be with their family.” The extra 48 hours in the selling season will cover the loss of Thursday.

This play will come and go based upon the calendar and the economy. Stores that can drive traffic and liquidate inventory will open. Some will feel threatened and open. Others will remain closed.

Last year REI was brilliant. Now the herd follows. Its power is gone — no longer newsworthy.

I don’t think many retailers care about the PR. I think they want to drive top-line and protect the bottom-line. There are folks/families who like to shop on Thanksgiving. Not all Americans celebrate the Holiday a la Martha Stewart or Norman Rockwell. Unfortunately, there aren’t the power items to drive traffic as in years past. Last holiday, TVs proved their lack of relevance regardless of price. The operational costs have escalated and eaten into any profit.

Roger Saunders

While one out of five adult respondents to the Prosper Monthly Consumer Survey say that they will shop on Thanksgiving Day, they are increasingly shifting that shopping to the Internet — particularly on that occasion. Give the store a rest. Keep the websites open and let your customers know that you can take care of them immediately online AND that you’re looking forward to seeing them over the Black Friday weekend within the store.

Big box operations can generate large enough revenue to justify staying open. It simply doesn’t make economic or staffing sense to have the doors open for small and midsize retailers on Thanksgiving.

Jerry Gelsomino

This is a difficult question to answer. First I would ask if your merchandise category consist of products or services customers usually shop for on Thanksgiving. Then, can you build expectations for why shopping the day after Thanksgiving would be better? As more and more Americans already have so much stuff, is there really a new product that will be so much in demand that customers couldn’t give retailers a holiday break? Retailers should be selling experience not shopping. That’s what REI did last year.

Peter Charness

Hopefully online has eclipsed the need to keep brick-and-mortar open. As pointed out, I think it does depend on the product category, but if more retailers close then hopefully everyone can.

Craig Sundstrom

“…the company’s e-commerce site will be up and running…”

This. As much as I support the idea of not opening, I think it’s fair to say this is a simple business decision (that reflects changing shopping habits) rather than some burst of laudatory motives. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the masses who were keen to hit Staples right after dinner will just have to wait.

Kai Clarke

This is each retailer’s decision to be closed on Thanksgiving. The madness, as it is described in the article, occurs on Friday, after Thanksgiving. How each retailer participates in this is up to them, but all retailers should participate in the largest shopping day of the year. How they do this is their own call.

"The biggest Black Friday shoppers won’t deal with the indignity of the 4 a.m. Hunger Games. They’ll shop from home with their families."
"It simply doesn’t make economic or staffing sense to have the doors open for small and midsize retailers on Thanksgiving."
"Retailers should be selling experience not shopping. That’s what REI did last year."

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