So much for the idea that a commerce-free Thanksgiving Day could offer Americans the opportunity to pause, reflect, spend time with family and friends, and ponder gratitude and thankfulness. Now it's just one more excuse to rev up the engine of commerce, given the fact that Black Friday's shopping explosion is now becoming a concept more than a specific day in time.
The blurring of Black Friday
This year, Black Friday -- the day traditionally known for bringing retail sales "into the black" and whipping shoppers into frenzies with big sales to jump-start holiday shopping -- has notably encroached even further into Thanksgiving Day after last year's grand experiment.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Sears Holdings' (NASDAQ:SHLDQ) Sears and Kmart, stores and Toys R Us will open for business at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Target (NYSE:TGT) will open for business at 9:00. These big names get all the attention, but crafters, rejoice: Michael's is one retailer that plans to open even earlier, at 4 p.m .
Needless to say, these decisions to move Black Friday to a Thursday -- or even to an entire week, as Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) done in cyberspace -- reflect a rather desperate retail push. Many stakeholders are actually pushing back.
Wal-Mart's decision comes at a rather inopportune time, considering labor unions' plans to hold Black Friday protests regarding many elements of worker treatment. There's irony in that the retailer's decision to open on Thursday gives just a tiny bit more grist for the mill.
Target has even experienced some shareholder complaints about the practice this year. As much as some workers might enjoy time-and-a-half, others are likely feeling robbed of quiet time with their families. Socially responsible investors in particular would rather workers be treated with respect and given the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones.
Of course, there are reasons retailers are making the move to accelerate the holiday rush. It's not to inconvenience their employees or give Americans an easy "out" of hanging out with family or watching holiday classics like It's a Wonderful Life for the 500th time.
According to one survey, last year Thanksgiving holiday online sales increased by 39.3%, compared with 24.3% growth in online sales on Black Friday. Apparently, Thanksgiving Day gives some people an urge to shop more than to remain thankful and commerce-free. Theoretically, these sales also cannibalize the sales some bricks-and-mortar retailers would have captured had they opened their doors.
Turning the magic into the mundane
I'm not the first to point out that retailers wouldn't be messing with the calendar like this if consumers weren't indicating there's a market opportunity. The real way to keep Thanksgiving sacred is for consumers to simply make the conscious effort not to show up that day. It seems that this year, many Americans will be part of the experiment of whether Thanksgiving should simply be another shopping day, whether they realize the weight of their choices or not.
Still, such developments may not bode well for investors anyway. This year, retail was rushing things even before the Black Friday controversy. It seems holiday decorations and TV ads showed up the day after Halloween. At some point, maybe consumers will simply get holiday fatigue instead of spending more or even much at all. There's something to be said for a sense of novelty and specialness, and too much time may turn the magic into the mundane.
Meanwhile, the economy is still lackluster, and the Black Friday mayhem is a margin-busting exercise in outdoing retail rivals on price to begin with. A lot may hang in the balance for many retailers this year, regardless of whether they keep their storefronts dark on Thanksgiving Day.
Here's one piece of consolation: Perhaps tryptophan-triggered comas will slow down the rate of violence and trampling at Black Friday events. That would be nice, since Black Friday violence is another developing -- and disturbing -- holiday ritual. Sound off on whether you think this year's retail holiday rush will backfire or not in the comments box below.