As the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza dies down, retailers like Walmart must evaluate whether opening on Thanksgiving was worth violating the traditional family holiday.
At least a dozen major retailers—most of them for the first time—opened on Thanksgiving instead of Black Friday. A New York City Kmart brought out its shoppers and employees at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving for 41 straight hours of commerce.
It’s all part of a complicated economic scene as stores compete with a growing online marketplace, a still-slow economy, and shoppers’ expectations for the recession’s deepest discounts. Thanksgiving also fell on Nov. 28, the latest possible date for the holiday.
Shoppers near Memphis, Tenn., began fighting over $1.74 towels, which turned out to be Walmart’s hottest item at 2.8 million sold, the retail giant reported. Macy’s reported 15,000 people lined up for the 8 p.m. Thursday opening of a New York City store, up from 11,000 from its midnight opening last year.
It’s not clear if Thursday hours are actually helping stores, though. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates a record 141 million people shopped in stores and online over the four-day period that ended Sunday, up from last year's 137 million. Spending fell, though, an estimated 2.9 percent to $57.4 billion, the first drop since the survey began in 2006.
Still, NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay expects overall spending for November and December to rise 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. Many stores began discounts in early November, and shoppers have responded to discounts spread out over more days and more items.
An often-forgotten piece of the equation, though, is employees. Christmas and Thanksgiving are often the only holidays that employees of retailers and restaurants are guaranteed time to spend with family. Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren said many employees chose to take Thanksgiving and overnight shifts for the overtime pay. One owner of a Sears Hometown Store in New Hampshire, though, said she openly defied a corporate order to open on Thanksgiving, citing the importance of family time.
Suhail Zaidi, owner of a Bags and Bangles accessory store at the Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla., said mall policy forced him to open at 8 p.m. Thursday, compared with 5 a.m. Friday last year. Zaidi said he saw no increase in business and wanted to keep Black Friday on Friday. “We opened up too early. We ruined the holiday,” he said.
As Thanksgiving hours crowd out family dinners, many shoppers may head online. And on this Cyber Monday, Internet giants like Amazon are poised to take advantage. Online retailers continue to draw more shoppers to the Monday after Thanksgiving, making it the busiest online shopping day of the year.
The National Retail Federation predicts 131 million people are clicking or tapping deals today, up 2 percent from last year. Research firm comScore, though, expects spending to increase by one third over last year to $2 billion. Total online sales currently make up 10 percent of revenue during the holiday shopping months and grow each year.