New York—Target rather than turkey? Lining up for doorbusters instead of watching a linebacker intercept for a touchdown? Stocking retail shelves with inventory instead of simmering up a thicker turkey stock?
What once was a sacrosanct day for family gathering and feasting, Thanksgiving is increasingly becoming an extension of Black Friday as retailers expand their hours in hopes of luring more shoppers to spend in an increasingly competitive retail environment. Thanksgiving is morphing into “Grey Thursday,” an opportunity for early bird (not to be confused with turkeys however) shoppers to get to those Black Friday deals even earlier.
This Thursday, Target, Sears, Kmart, Tanger Outlets, Toys R Us have joined with Walmart and Gap in staying open on the national holiday while Macy’s, Kohls’ and Best Best Buy are waiting to open at midnight on Black Friday.
Some retail analysts believe the Grey Thursday sales indicate how anxious retailers are about the holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation (NRF) projects that holiday spending this year will increase only 4.1% below last year’s 5.6% rise. In other words, they’re competing for a piece of what could be an even smaller pie.
There’s also the added pressure of online competition where many traditional retailers and website promote Black Friday deals well ahead of time.
“The days of waking up Thanksgiving morning to find out what retailers’ Black Friday promotions will be has transitioned into an ongoing dialogue between companies and their customers starting days in advance,” said Pam Goodfellow, BIGinsight Consumer Insights director. “Through sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, company blogs, emails and mobile apps, consumers can connect with their favorite retailers like never before.”
Consumers may be itching to take advantage of those earlier sales than in the past, too. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, 23% said they planned to shop in stores on Thanksgiving Day compared with 17% in 2011.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, agrees: “Not everybody’s going to watch 12 hours of football on Thanksgiving Day. Most people, after 20 minutes of sitting at the dinner table, are ready to get out and do something. Why not cater to the people who are into the sport of shopping?”
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There’s even apparently pressure from Wall Street, where analyst are scrutinizing major retailer’s bottom lines even closer these days.
“From an investor’s standpoint if a retailer is not putting in extra hours while competitors are extending them, it would make me wonder how much they can participate in the race for the consumer dollar,” said Ken Hemauer, a senior portfolio manager at Robert W. Baird & Co.
And chasing dollars is what it’s all about, adds Jim Brownell, vice president retail industry solutions at GT Nexus. “Retail is not growing very much, so we’re not seeing much more money coming in in the season. It is really who’s getting a bigger portion of the sales pie.”
Not everyone is so gung ho on Grey Thursday, however. Like many employees who have to cut their Thanksgiving short to get to work. More than 30,000 people signed an online petition at MoveOn.org requesting that Walmart allow its employees to celebrate the day.
Another petition at change.org, asking Target to “save Thanksgiving” garnered more than 355,600 signers.
Others would like to see more states adopt blue laws like those in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine, where since the Colonial era stores have been prohibited from opening on holidays. While retailers can apply for exemptions in Massachusetts, given the strong local support for the law, that’s unlikely.
Small retailers with less than five employees can remain open in Maine but others must stay closed on Thanksgiving.
“It’s been confusing this year, because a lot of retailers are advertising an early kick-off to the Black Friday,” Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, told the Providence Journal, “but it won’t be happening around here.”