It's not just in the U.S. that retailers push the bounds of decency and good taste by opening earlier and earlier on the Friday after Thanksgiving, if not on the holiday itself. They're so strapped for sales that they've sent the practice across the border.
Sears Holdings (OTC:SHLDQ) is one of several retailers that have run sales in Canada to coincide with the U.S. holiday, but it pushed the envelope further this year by timing rebates in the Great White North to coincide with the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, which fell on Monday.
The Great Recession, it seems, changed the way the industry thought about the Christmas shopping season. Doing anything to juice sales even just a little became acceptable, and "holiday creep" began in earnest.
In 2011, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) broke an unspoken rule and opened its doors at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, following that up last year by opening even earlier, at 8 p.m. As the retailing behemoth's sales growth has slowed, every bit of extra revenue that can be generated might just help make its numbers. And though Wal-Mart's not starting any earlier this year -- 8 p.m. seems to be the earliest any major retailer wants to begin -- even Macy's is breaking a 155-year tradition and will open its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Target, for its part, is opting for a more seemly 9 p.m. beginning to the shopping extravaganza.
Yet Sears, whose sales are in a perennial death spiral, is once again seen as most desperate to add to its top-line numbers. Last month it began running commercials advertising a Christmas layaway program for its Kmart stores, the earliest time ever a retailer tried to gin up sales by pushing the holiday in its ads.
For a company that created an online shop called "Christmas Lane" that appeared in July, we shouldn't be surprised Sears is going global with its early shopping efforts. And certainly not after another mind-numbingly poor earnings performance that saw revenues tumble more than 6% and net losses widen to $194 million. Although this is largely a result of dwindling appliance sales, it is a microcosm of the decay that has settled over the once-venerable retailer following its merger with Kmart.
Much like CEO Eddie Lampert's earlier attempts at using financial gimmicks to boost quarterly numbers, Sears' persistent efforts to push Christmas shopping ever earlier into the year will ultimately backfire -- there comes a time when you reach a point of diminishing returns. Consumers no longer respond to your entreaties, and investors might want to consider whether Sears Holdings pushing Black Friday Christmas sales into October, even if it is north of the border, is a sign it's running full tilt into that wall.