For many, Thanksgiving is a day about family, friends, good food and football. For us all, Thanksgiving should be a day when we are grateful for those who keep us safe, and for those who bring meaning and joy to our lives. It should also be a day when we evaluate what we are doing for others, and how we can best use our gifts and talents to further the greater good.
However, like it or not, Thanksgiving is also the kick-off to the critically important holiday shopping season for retailers. Historically, this season begins at midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving – which has come to be known as Black Friday. The term Black Friday is actually rooted from the belief that retailers would be operating at a loss, in financial terms "in the red," until the holiday shopping season begins, which would then allow them to turn a profit and "operate in the black."
While there will be much analysis of Black Friday 2013 in the weeks to come, one fact is clear – Black Friday is beginning earlier and earlier. This means that a Thursday that was once reserved for family, food, and football, is now increasingly becoming a day to storm the outlets for deep discounts.
Industry leaders are beginning to call this trend "Black Friday Creep" or even "Brown Thursday." Whatever the nickname, two conclusions seem to be emerging: this trend is causing a great deal of controversy over the workers who must now punch in, instead of sitting down for the holiday with their families; and if this day continues to bring in big business, more and more retailers will open their doors.
Who was open for business this Thanksgiving?
Leading the way for major retailers operating on Thanksgiving was Kmart, which opened at 6 a.m. Thursday, and remained open for a staggering 41 straight hours through Black Friday. Old Navy was not all that far behind, opening stores for the majority of Thanksgiving Day with operating hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year, and four hours earlier than in 2011 – a telling trend from the world's largest retailer and America's largest employer. Target (NYSE:TGT) and Macy's (NYSE:M) joined a long list of big-name retailers who opened just after the last round of desserts were served, at 8 p.m. last Thursday.
Who was closed on Thanksgiving?
While it is becoming a new industry standard to open for business on Thanksgiving, some notable companies continued to buck that trend in 2013, giving their workers the holiday off. Costco (NASDAQ:COST), a retailer known for its employee-friendly corporate culture stayed closed last Thursday, while opening up an hour earlier than usual at 9 a.m. on Friday.
Home Depot (NYSE: HD) stayed consistent with its 2012 holiday season strategy, and stayed closed on Thanksgiving Day, while opening its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday. BJ's Wholesale Club also continued its tradition of keeping doors closed on Thanksgiving by kicking off its end-of-year sale season at 7 a.m. on Black Friday.
Does opening on Thanksgiving make sense for the bottom line?
In a word, yes. According to the National Retail Federation, shopping on Thanksgiving Day 2013 drew nearly 45 million consumers, up 27% from 2012 when 35 million bargain hunters hit the stores. To put this trend in perspective, the 35 million consumers who shopped on Thanksgiving Day last year represented a 23% uptick from 2011, and a 58% jump from 2010.
While Black Friday continues to reign supreme, attracting more than 92 million consumers, shopping on Thanksgiving appears to be a trend that is here to stay.
In a consumer climate where the average shopper is spending $407 over the holiday weekend, down from an average of $423 last year – capturing market share is key. Retailers that opened their doors this Thanksgiving, such as Wal-Mart, were able to capture a piece of that market share that their competitors, such as Costco, could not.
In addition to the fierce competition with one another, retailers must also compete with external forces. Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving Day, retailers are fighting against a compressed calendar with the shortest holiday shopping season since 2002. Brick and mortar stores are also competing with their e-commerce rivals, who are offering equally enticing holiday deals while operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Who's to blame for stores opening on the holiday?
With an increasing demand from consumers, still sluggish national economy, and intense competition from all sides, you can see why a retailer would choose to open on Thanksgiving Day. The bigger question however is, should they?
The problem with all of these stores opening on Thanksgiving Day is that these stores do not run themselves. Millions of employees, many of them low-wage workers, spent their holiday away from their families endlessly stocking shelves, or cashing out droves of bargain-hunting customers. Due to the nature of many positions in the retail industry, these workers had no control on whether they would work on Thanksgiving. If their store was open, they were expected to report for their shift.
So, who's to blame for stores opening on Thanksgiving? Is it the companies that are looking to maximize their profits and get an edge on the competition, or the bargain-hunting consumers with an insatiable desire for more hours of holiday shopping?
The truth is, it's a little bit of both.
As demonstrated by the big name companies that still keep their stores closed on Thanksgiving, retailers do not need to open on the holiday to keep the lights on. All of these retailers could find the strength to give their employees Thanksgiving Day off, while still opening their doors early for Black Friday sales.
Expanding the holiday shopping weekend to Thanksgiving Day is not growing overall sales, it is just shifting them earlier. If the industry reverted back to its historic norm when Thursday was a day for family, and Friday was a day for shopping, all of the retailers could compete on a level playing field for the holiday sales market share.
But all of the blame for store openings on Thanksgiving cannot be placed at the feet of the retailers alone. As in most situations, we the consumer actually have the overriding control here. If customers were not showing up in droves on Thanksgiving Day, these stores would not be open. It really is that simple.
If consumers continue to display a high demand for store openings on Thanksgiving Day, and if this demand continues to increase – the market will respond with more and more retailers opening their doors on the holiday.
So, if we really want to see retail employees have Thanksgiving Day off, we need to take a momentary break from the holiday shopping season ourselves.
Fool contributor Jeffrey Pelletier has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco Wholesale. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.