Joining the Thanksgiving Day parade of companies opening their doors on the holiday itself to get a head start on the Christmas shopping extravaganza, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) announced it would be unlocking its doors for shoppers at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 28, and staying open till 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29.
The electronics superstore is just the latest retailer to see what's shaping up to be a dismal holiday shopping season and pulling out all the stops to generate a few more dollars in sales to juice returns. Macy's, Target, Kohl's, and J.C. Penney have all joined the fray of blurring the distinction between discrete holidays, and with just 25 shopping days between Black Friday and Christmas Day -- six days fewer than the 31 enjoyed last year -- retailers have a ready-made excuse for lackluster sales.
Best Buy, of course, says it's in response to customer demand that it's opening its doors early, and there is some truth to it. According to the National Retail Federation, some shoppers really are early birds when it comes to Christmas shopping: some 12% actually begin Christmas shopping before September, while another 6% use the start of the school year to get a head start on their seasonal excess.
Both Sears Holdings (NASDAQOTH:SHLDQ) and Wal-Mart have been pushing the envelope when it comes to beginning their seasonal push. The former began before the kids went back to school and the latter started right after Halloween ended. Sears' Kmart division went even further and angered people by announcing last week it would run a 41-hour-long shopping excess marathon, opening its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and going all the way through to the next night.
For three years running, Kmart always locked up at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to give employees a chance to spend time with their families. Not so this year, and both employees and consumers are outraged.
A creepy turn of events
There's a whole range of estimates of how much growth retailers will enjoy, but none of them are particularly very encouraging, even from the industry cheerleaders. And when you realize they're going up against a lower comp from the year-ago period because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy, the picture is even more bleak. The recession, though, has changed the way business has attacked the holiday season, with "holiday creep" beginning in earnest earlier and earlier.
The move by Best Buy is a 180-degree turn from the corporate message espoused two years ago when then-CEO Brian Dunn reluctantly agreed to open its doors at midnight of Thanksgiving Day. "I feel terrible because it impacts," he said. "It'll change some Thanksgiving plans for some of our employees." This year, apparently, it's got more of the Kmart mind-set and employee plans be damned. We need sales!
Considering Best Buy's trailing revenues are up 14% from the year-ago period, you wouldn't think it would need to move the needle so much, but it's become a game of follow the leader so that when one company goes in a certain direction, others are compelled to follow.
If it proves successful, then expect next year that those who chose to remain closed and not ruin the holiday -- small in number though they are -- will also join in. So far Jo-Ann Fabrics is one of just a tiny handful that says it chooses to "value tradition" and keep its doors bolted shut -- if you want to shop, go to it's online store.
This grasping need for sales is unseemly, and now that it's begun, what retailer will have the fortitude to pull back on the reins? They say they're only doing so because their customers want it, so we really have no one to blame but ourselves. Yet when every retailer is doing the same thing, there's no benefit to be gained.
Best Buy maybe have joined the parade, but that doesn't mean it will be able to feast on higher sales afterward.