As more retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, they’re potentially killing a Golden Goose they’ve spent over two decades perfecting.  By opening on Thanksgiving, they’re diluting the value of Black Friday and possibly creating consumer confusion about when they can expect the best deals.  For the last three years, an increasing number of retailers are not only opening on Thanksgiving but they’re opening earlier each year, with Kmart opening this year for a marathon 41 hours beginning at 6 AM Thanksgiving morning until 11 PM on Black Friday.

For over two decades, consumers have been conditioned to really start their holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Not only is this an event but it has become a tradition. For arriving as early as 4 AM on Friday, consumers expect exclusive specials and deep discounts not available at any other time. Retailers are now asking consumers to break this tradition and in any case change their behavior.

According the National Retail Federation, in 2012, nearly 250 million shoppers visited stores over the Black Friday weekend, including Thanksgiving Day, representing an increase of 3.5% over 2011. Of those shoppers, 35 million consumers went to the mall on Thanksgiving Day (almost 14% of all Black Friday weekend shoppers).  So opening on Thanksgiving Day essentially just shifted some foot traffic to Thursday.

What does This Mean for Retailers?

  • In the short term, individual retailers might achieve their forecasts at the expense of other similar retailers who stay closed. When Kmart decided to open on Thanksgiving a few years ago, the pressure on Target and Wal-Mart to open on Thanksgiving was intense.  Wal-Mart, which averages over $1.5 billion in sales per day, can’t afford to remain closed when direct competitors are open.
  • Retailers might disaffect employees who have historically spent Thanksgiving Day at home, while generating negative publicity about disrupting an important family holiday.
  • Retailers who refuse to open on Thanksgiving Day may benefit.  Angry consumers have taken to social media to urge boycotts of “naughty” stores who open on Thanksgiving, while stores like Costco and Nordstrom, that aren’t open, are considered “nice”.

Desperation Not Innovation

In our last blog, “If it ain’t broke, break it” ( , we wrote that companies need to continue to innovate in order to maintain strong, relevant brands.  By opening on Thanksgiving, retailers are not innovating.  One can argue that Cyber Monday and even Small Business Saturday were innovations that provided consumers distinct reasons to shop.

Opening on Thanksgiving is not innovation.  Sadly, retailers may have run out of good ideas. And this season, retailers have not just stopped at Thanksgiving. They’ve announced Black Friday deals earlier than ever. When will it end, Halloween? Labor Day?  By over using the Black Friday concept, they are actually diluting the value of the Black Friday brand.

So what should consumers believe? When is the best day to go shopping? Do consumers still need to get up at 4 AM on Friday to find THE BEST deals?  Black Friday may not mean what it used to. Retailers are inadvertently changing consumer behavior they spent decades developing.

The real reason for this race to open on Thanksgiving is to meet earnings targets.  But it’s a zero sum game.  With Black Friday, retailers had a good thing going.  It was the clear start to the holiday shopping season. Now, Black Friday doesn’t have the same impact and retailers have no one to blame but themselves.  And so far, retailers have not provided a clear reason to go shopping on Thanksgiving—other than convenience.

What Can Retailers Do?

I hate to say it but maybe retailers have opened up a Pandora’s Box they can’t close. Over the next five years, I predict that most retailers will be open most of Thanksgiving Day – except for a few die-hards.  While consumers may benefit by having an additional shopping day, can retailers do anything to make “Turkey Thursday” more meaningful? They have to figure out how to differentiate “Turkey Thursday” from “Black Friday”.  If they do, they might still have a chance to preserve Black Friday’s meaning and assign a new meaning to shopping on Thursday, whatever we decide to call it .

What do you think? Are you planning to shop on Thanksgiving?  How might that impact your plans to shop on Friday? If you used to shop on Friday, will you go shopping on Thursday and sleep in on Friday?  So are retailers expanding their footprint or killing the Golden Goose? Only time will tell.   Happy shopping!


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