Will closing stores on Thanksgiving become the new retail tradition?

Macy’s Herald Square, Black Friday, 2018 - Photo: RetailWire
Jun 07, 2021

Walmart has joined Target in announcing plans to close its doors on Thanksgiving for the second straight year, describing the day off as a way to show appreciation to associates for their efforts during the pandemic.

“Sam Walton said, ‘Our people make the difference,’ and that’s never been more true than it is right now,” said Dacona Smith, EVP and COO for Walmart U.S., in a statement.

Target in mid-January said it would again close on Thanksgiving after reporting a strong November/December holiday period. Management said the stores were closed “in order to minimize crowds and help our guests take the stress out of getting the best deals of the season. The response was so positive that we’ll carry it forward this year.”

The moves come despite the easing of in-store restrictions as vaccination rates climb and COVID-19 cases drop.

A number of other retailers that typically remain open on Thanksgiving, including Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney, closed last year on Turkey Day amid calls for social distancing and worker appreciation measures. Many stores wound up opening Black Friday between 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Among those remaining open on Thanksgiving were Macy’s, which opened at 5:00 p.m. on the holiday, and Old Navy, at 3:00 p.m.

Last year’s holiday season was abnormally extended with some deals kicking off in mid-October to coincide with a delayed Amazon Prime Day. Many retailers also focused on online promotions to reduce in-store crowds.

Despite criticism over associates having to work the holiday, stores first began opening on Thanksgiving in 2011 to kick off Black Friday Weekend, with many starting at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.

A Morning Consult survey from 2019 found younger consumers had grown accustomed to shopping on the holiday, with 40 percent of Gen-Z respondents supporting opening versus 31 percent opposed. Overall, however, 55 percent voiced opposition versus 29 percent expressing support.

Significant shopping still gets done online. Adobe reported Thanksgiving Day spending hit another record of $5.1 billion in 2020, up nearly 22 percent year over year.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see retailers reversing the common practice of opening stores on Thanksgiving in the coming years? Do you also expect retailers to push up Christmas promotions to try and spread out holiday shopping in stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Lately retailers have faced more public scrutiny of working conditions, including safety and pay. Giving time off is one way retailers can prioritize associates’ needs."
"If it was a truly profitable endeavor, I believe they would open up and position it as a service to their customers."
"...there is no doubt that some retailers will view the closure of a couple of the big guys as a chance to do a little extra business."

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28 Comments on "Will closing stores on Thanksgiving become the new retail tradition?"

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Mark Ryski

No doubt many common practices will get reviewed as we enter a post-COVID-19 world and operating days will be one of them. That said, while I believe that there may be some modifications to holiday hours in the short-term, ultimately retailers will revert back to the norm as we put more distance between COVID-19 and normal.

Richard Hernandez

I am glad to see this will continue post pandemic. The holidays started early last year and the uptick in online buying helped buoy sales. The online buying will remain strong and with deals more than likely starting early again this year, retailers will be able to save the year or at least break even – hopefully.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Nobody wants to work on Thanksgiving. Younger people may like shopping on Thanksgiving, but that’s largely due to a.) an age-old desire to escape extended time with the family and b.) because it’s available. Anyone over 20 remembers when this was so not a thing. Reverse, retailers, and celebrate the family.

Michael La Kier

It goes without saying that in 2020 and 2021 retail has experienced significant changes. At the center of it all are the retail associates who have stood strong and deserve praise. Closing on Thanksgiving to allow associates to spend time with family is a nice touch. After all, we can all still order online — most of us do anyway.

Bob Amster

The demand is the demand. With the growing trend to care for one’s employees as well as for the customers, I hope that the stores will close on Thanksgiving, the employees will have the day off to do as they will, and the customers will satisfy their demand during the following weekend.

Paula Rosenblum

Calling this “a common practice” is funny. It has existed for less than a decade and was always a bad idea. It doesn’t change total sales, but definitely changes the bottom line for the worse.

Good riddance to it.

The object of the game has to be to create more predictable demand curves. Opening on Thanksgiving and the Black Friday door busters really messed those curves up.

Scott Norris

We lost my brother-in-law to COVID and father-in-law to diabetes last year — our takeaway is that time with family is precious and all too short. And we couldn’t have Thanksgiving with either my wife’s mom or my folks last year — so no, there will be no Turkey Day shopping, and we’ll delete any offers from merchants who make their staff come in then.

Exuberance this summer will turn to realization that hundreds of thousands of families will have empty place settings at the holidays — let’s please treat the day with respect and not crassness.

Jeff Sward

Looks like we are going to find out which retailers really do care about their front-line essential workers. It’s one of the biggest family days of the year and the last chance to take a deep breath before the escalating holiday crunch. I had hoped that the ever earlier Black Friday promotions would take enough pressure off of the Thanksgiving weekend that at least Thanksgiving could be spared as a day off. But there is no doubt that some retailers will view the closure of a couple of the big guys as a chance to do a little extra business.

Lisa Goller

Yes, many retailers will show their gratitude by giving workers time off on Thanksgiving. Lately retailers have faced more public scrutiny of working conditions, including safety and pay. Giving time off is one way retailers can prioritize satisfying associates’ needs.

Also, in-store Christmas promotions will start earlier to give shoppers more time and relieve strain on their supply chains.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

The combination of online shopping and COVID-19 have changed retailing forever. Thanksgiving in-store shopping is simply another casualty of the new normal.

Kathleen Fischer

While I don’t think opening stores on Thanksgiving Day was “common practice,” I am happy to see the trend going back to the days when stores were closed on Thanksgiving. Retailers are looking at other ways to increase sales, such as pushing up Christmas promotions to even earlier in the season.

Gary Sankary

I’ve been a strong advocate for not opening on Thanksgiving. Opening on Thanksgiving really is a very new practice, it’s not like we’re disrupting some long established retail tradition. I think it’s probably only been in the last 10 years that stores pushed back their Black Friday opening hours past the 12:00 a.m. cutoff from Thanksgiving. Personally I think it’s really disrespectful to our front-line teams to make them work. I don’t buy the “it’s voluntary” argument I’ve heard either.

Today, I don’t think it’s necessary, I have to believe that digital commerce can give shoppers what they want on Thanksgiving, provide some sales revenue and still allow their teams to be with their families on an important day.
That said, while I hope we go back to respecting Thanksgiving, I’m not optimistic that will be the case. It’s an arms race. As soon as one starts again — the race is on.

Suresh Chaganti

It’s not clear if the closure extends to all non-emergency, back office personnel including warehouses, logistics personnel, etc. If this is limited only to store staff, it benefits only a small portion of the workforce.

Venky Ramesh

When it comes to store opening on Thanksgiving, my position is to “flatten the curves”- the COVID-19, safety incidents, and the demand curve (as my colleague Paula Rosenblum suggested). With online becoming more convenient across the generations and the need for speed as it relates to delivery times, I think in the future, the stores will start going into dark mode during the holidays to act like local fulfillment centers.

Andrew Blatherwick

Sam Walton was quite right and it is good to see today’s management supporting his philosophy. In retail, people do make the difference and COVID-19 has shown that those people need respect and help to perform at their best. Given the amount of online trade today, if someone has to shop then they can do so and for many retailers they will not lose out providing they have their online strategy in place. To reward store staff by closing is a great benefit and if they are not losing out then why not? The problem will come if a large number of retailers do not follow this trend and the ones who do find they are losing business. We will have to wait and see if it becomes a permanent thing. We should remember that it is not only store staff that have felt the pressure over the last 15 months. Supply chain staff have also carried a heavy burden and would appreciate getting the day off as well.

Steve Montgomery

The two the biggest family gathering holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas. By closing retailers are allowing their employees to enjoy them with their families. It is a great move that in some cases was started because of the pandemic but should be a new tradition for retailers.

Rich Kizer

Here is how I see it. Closing on Thanksgiving Day is acceptable. I think it was hard on margins to get shoppers into the stores on Thanksgiving. I fully expect hard offers on the internet for the day after both in-store and on the net. I think that is the greatest way to create sales and preserve margin — and along with that, I think it keeps staff a little happier.

Shep Hyken

Everything old is new again. While this could be a business decision, it is also an opportunity to make a value statement and show respect toward employees and their families.

Georganne Bender

We lived for decades without stores being open on Thanksgiving Day and we survived. And I think we will all be just fine if we can’t shop that day in stores.

The time is right to start taking better care of our store associates, they should be at home with their families on Thanksgiving. The bonus is that if stores are closed on Thanksgiving Day it will make Black Friday even stronger. The media can continue to diss Black Friday but it’s still an important day to consumers.

Ken Lonyai

We can accept these gestures as goodwill towards associates, but the reality is there’s as much goodwill PR towards the brand as well as the need to be on par with competitors, to otherwise risk negative consumer perception by not doing this. Add to that healthy online pre-Black Friday sales and nowadays there’s no real revenue hit.

Ricardo Belmar

Front-line retail workers are top of mind for most consumers since the pandemic began. Closing on Thanksgiving Day is one way for retailers to promote a positive, caring attitude towards those workers that everyone will appreciate. Those that still want to shop can do so online and the 2020 holiday shopping season proved (as I wrote about here in December) that retailers can spread holiday sales throughout the season without losing out on any Black Friday related shopping. Consumers learned to like finding those holiday deals without all the hectic and crowded store visits on Thanksgiving/Black Friday. I expect this year will look very much the same with retailers moving up their holiday promotions and adjusting their inventories to accommodate. No doubt there will be a desire to avoid the shipageddon situation from 2020!

Lee Peterson

With e-commerce so prevalent, there’s really no need for the Thanksgiving Day invasion anymore — thankfully. It just always seemed wrong to me, for workers and for families, and it never really did anything but spread the pie out rather than make it bigger. So this is good news.

Re: Christmas promo move ups — good question because right now, revenues are very strong across the board as the predicted post-pandemic surge is going down nicely. I’d wait a while and see how long the joy lasts, you may not have to move them up too much this year. Just keep your finger on the trigger.

Lauren Goldberg

I believe that retailers have looked at their financials and have realized that there isn’t that much upside to being open on Thanksgiving Day. Retailers will try to pull the sales forward or shift to online, as well as getting the positive PR about “giving their employees the day with their families.” If it was a truly profitable endeavor, I believe they would open up and position it as a service to their customers.

Brandon Rael

With the significant emergence of digital commerce throughout the pandemic, we should expect that retailers will not feel the pressure of having to keep their stores open on Thanksgiving Day. While Black Friday will continue to be the single-day shopping phenomenon for many reasons, we have witnessed the Holiday season and promotional cycle extending well before and after Black Friday.

Considering how challenging the past year has been on all of us, the hope is that retail store associates will have Thanksgiving Day off to spend with their families and disconnect. Without having the dependency on the stores being open on Thanksgiving Day, we should expect that e-commerce sales will rise exponentially once the Turkey Dinner and NFL games have finished.

Craig Sundstrom

Is opening on Thanksgiving really the “common practice”? I was under the impression that closing WAS still the norm. But whatever the reality, I think we’ll continue to see a mix. The growth of online complicates predictions: on the one hand, online, of course, is “always open,” so the necessity to open physical stores is presumably lessened; OTOH stores that are still heavily dependent on them may feel all the more need to open to compete.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Bravo for giving employees the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving Day! These front-line workers should have the opportunity to choose how they spend a national holiday, especially since it will do very little to retailers’ overall holiday season sales.

Rachelle King

This certainly sounds like a noble thing to do; close stores so your valued associates can spend the holiday with their families. Sure, it’s nice. But if it were as easy as being nice, retailers would have done it a long time ago. The reality is, more people are shopping online, they can extend deals and the shopping season longer virtually, retailers will make up the difference in ecommerce sales and it takes the burden off stores.

I do foresee a time in the not so distant future when retailers will not be able to bank on making up dollars in ecommerce and stores will open again on Thanksgiving. For sure, it will be because customers miss the stores and want to come back (and it will be safe to, of course); not because retailers need to put the black in Black Friday.