Thanksgiving is a time for most Americans to eat, drink, and spend time with family. Many also prepare for the onslaught of holiday shopping that traditionally begins the following day, dubbed Black Friday, when retailers offer their most deeply discounted sales of the season.
That dynamic began to change several years ago, when several major retailers broke with tradition and opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Some argue that stores should be open for the holiday, and the controversial practice has become more widespread. Pushback from employees and the public has convinced some chains to remain closed, even though they will likely lose sales by doing so.
Most consumers agree
According to a survey conducted by aggregation site BestBlackFriday.com, nearly 58% of U.S. adults either dislike or strongly dislike stores being open on Thanksgiving Day. Of the remainder, 26% are indifferent, and only 16% either favor or strongly favor the practice.
Consumers' opinions are beginning to have an effect on the sales results. After several years that saw increasing traffic on Thanksgiving, that trend reversed last year, with 1% fewer shoppers than in 2015, according to analytics company ShopperTrak. The company also reported that Black Friday store visits were flat compared to the prior year, as more consumers shifted to online shopping, and spread more of their purchases over the entire season.
A number of states have legislation that prohibits retailers from being open on Thanksgiving Day. These "blue laws," which are currently on the books in Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts, forbid department stores, chain supermarkets, and big-box retailers from being open on turkey day. There are exclusions for gas stations, restaurants, and smaller food stores.
The laws forbidding shopping on Sunday and certain holidays were widespread at one time, and are believed to have originated in Colonial times, the result of strict religious beliefs among some settlers. The name was likely derived in reference to the "blue stockings," a 17th-century political faction in England known for their rigid morality.
Giving thanks by closing the doors
So far, about 75 prominent retailers have announced that they will close their doors for Thanksgiving.
In 2015, outdoor gear and apparel co-op REI created serious buzz when it opted to close not only on Thanksgiving, but Black Friday as well. The company has announced for the third successive year that it will continue this practice, paying its nearly 12,000 employees for both days. REI is also encouraging employees and customers alike to forego shopping, and instead spend time outdoors with loved ones, and post about the experiences using the hashtag #OptOutside.
Well-known department stores Dillard's and Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), as well as clothiers Burlington, H&M, and Neiman Marcus will all wait until Black Friday to join the shopping festivities.
Office products giant Staples will also be closed on Thanksgiving. Steve Matyas, CEO of Staples Retail said in a press release: "We know that the holidays are a special time for creating memories with loved ones and at Staples we want to ensure that on Thanksgiving Day our customers and associates are able to do so." Competitor Office Depot (NASDAQ:ODP) made a similar decision, while reminding customers that they could shop online "starting at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday for great Black Friday deals."
The three most popular warehouse store chains in the U.S. are also bucking the open-on-Thanksgiving trend. Costco (NASDAQ:COST), Sam's Club, owned by Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT), and BJ's Wholesale Club will all remain closed. BJ's president and CEO said, "We're committed to letting our team members enjoy the holiday, and we'll be ready bright and early for our biggest Black Friday ever."
And home outfitters IKEA and The Container Store (NYSE: TCS) are also refusing to open their doors so that employees can enjoy turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce with family and friends.
The debate will continue
The question of whether stores should be open for business on Thanksgiving will likely remain hotly debated. For retailers, however, it may end up being a question of economics. In the most recent quarter, online sales accounted for 8.4% of total U.S. retail, according to the Department of Commerce. While that may not seem like much, that share has more than doubled from 3.5% just a decade ago.
With the trend toward e-commerce continuing to gain momentum, brick-and-mortar retailers may find themselves forced to decide between public perception and additional profits.
Danny Vena has the following options: short December 2017 $75 calls on Wal-Mart Stores, long January 2018 $57.50 calls on Wal-Mart Stores, and long January 2018 $55 calls on Wal-Mart Stores. The Motley Fool owns shares of The Container Store Group and has the following options: short January 2018 $170 calls on Home Depot and long January 2020 $110 calls on Home Depot. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Nordstrom. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.