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Open Or Not On Thanksgiving: Is There A Choice?

Monday December 10th, 2012 - 4:18PM

The big debate around the Thanksgiving table this year in my home, and probably many others across the country, centered on how stores were getting a head start on Black Friday by opening Thursday evening.

The majority suggested these retailers were guilty of slapping traditional American values squarely in the face.

Then one guest asked, “Should Amazon and other e-tailers suspend operations on Thanksgiving?” Most of the same majority so staunchly against open stores on Thanksgiving, answered, “No.” Many reasoned you can’t dictate what happens on the Internet; and others said operators of closed stores can still take online orders.

Perhaps.

Double Standard

However, the new double standard that seems to forgive web retailers for humming along uninterrupted by traditional family time is precisely why brick-and-mortar stores might have no choice but to open on Thanksgiving. And it is precisely why Black Friday as we know it might soon become obsolete. 

It wasn’t long ago that retailers opened their doors on Black Friday at 6 a.m. That became 4 a.m., and then the stroke of midnight.

The earlier and earlier starts originally were inspired by the heated race among national chains for traffic and market share during the holiday season’s vital kickoff weekend. That fire has been stoked by the steady Thanksgiving weekend online sales growth that no longer relies on Cyber Monday.

Online sales on Black Friday, by some estimates, jumped 26% year over year to top $1 billion for the first time. Store visits on Black Friday, meanwhile, declined almost 2%, the first such decline since 2008.

Some will call it bad business for stores to open before the pumpkin pie is digested. But these retailers can make a compelling argument in the hordes of customers lining up for hot deals before the doors were unlocked Thanksgiving evening.

24/7/365

If that irks traditionalists, they might choke over the idea that a shopping arena leaning more every second to the 24/7/365 advantage of e-commerce might persuade all major stores to open all day on Thanksgiving— and maybe all day, every day during the holiday season.

Cost Of Entry

Some car companies and other assertive marketers turned November into a monthlong Black Friday promotion. Such an idea might unwittingly foreshadow a retail shopping scenario that could require hourly doorbusters each day during the two-month lead-in to Christmas with the same drawing power as those deals typically reserved for the first couple of hours of Black Friday.

This would further test each retailer’s promotional and operational savvy; and the dexterity of every vendor asked months in advance to serve an increasing number of short-term, high-volume promotions for the season.

It could become a cost of entry, though, and the housewares business must be prepared for it.

The pace of change in retailing is accelerating at a pace that can be quite alarming to a society wrestling to satiate its appetite for new opportunities without sacrificing traditional values.

It might take fewer employees working on Thanksgiving for an online retailer to process thousands of orders nationally than it might take one big-box store to open that holiday evening.

That store might have no choice in this new round-the-clock retail marketplace. While it’s debateable, everyone should get used to it.

—Peter Giannetti