Dollars & Sense

More than ever, Thanksgiving is the new Black Friday

Updated: 2013-11-20T05:28:51Z

By JOYCE SMITH

The Kansas City Star

Several Teavana employees planned to make the trek to the Country Club Plaza on Thanksgiving to take in the lighting ceremony. Now they’ll get paid to do it.

The new tea shop plans to open from 5 to 8 p.m. during the holiday to give its customers a place to get warm and perhaps make a purchase in the process.

Over the last few years, a few big retailers have opened on Thanksgiving night to be the first to kick off the holiday shopping season. This year the trend is exploding, with specialty stores like Teavana, mom-and-pops, even more big retailers and entire shopping malls opening ever earlier. More restaurants, too, will be serving this Thanksgiving.

Black Friday, that day after Thanksgiving traditional kickoff of the bustling holiday shopping season, has long had shoppers out before sunrise to be the first to grab special “doorbuster” deals.

But now Thanksgiving is taking the lead. Major retailers, including Target and Toys R Us, have been pushing their opening times into Thanksgiving night to one-up each other and be the first to grab holiday sales. This year, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s are among at least a dozen major retailers that are opening on Thanksgiving. Several are opening for the first time, and others, including Gap, are opening earlier on the holiday than they did last year.

The new shopping day can be an important opportunity for chains, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the last two months of the year.

Several Plaza retailers plan to take advantage of the built-in crowds drawn to the Plaza lighting ceremony. Bath & Body Works, Gap, Sunglass Hut, Decori, and Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott are among the shops that will be open limited hours, along with many Plaza restaurants.

In the Northland, more than a dozen Zona Rosa restaurants and retailers plan to open for a few hours on Thanksgiving. But when the center opened for midnight shopping for the first time six years ago, it was the only shopping center in the market to do so.

“Fast forward six years and now everyone is doing it — shopping centers, mass merchants, department stores,” said Rosemary Salerno, general manager of Zona Rosa. “The retailers know that to capture the consumer dollar during the highly competitive holiday shopping season, they have to open early and be aggressive with their deals and specials.”

About a dozen restaurants and shops at Independence Center plan to open with the mall at 8 p.m., including Topsy’s Popcorn and Gloria Jean’s Coffees. Oak Park Mall in Overland Park will open at 8 p.m., along with such stores as Bachrach, Aeropostale, The Limited, Windsor, H&M and PacSun. Others, like Banana Republic, will open at midnight.

Still, some chains are holding back — for now. Costco, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores and Nordstrom will be dark. Nordstrom officials said they wanted their employees to be able to spend time with their families.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” said Kelly Skahan, spokeswoman for Nordstrom. “Ultimately it is up to our customers. We want to evolve based on how they want to shop.”

Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at the Wake Forest University Schools of Business in Winston-Salem, N.C., expects that it’s just a matter of time — he estimates five years — before most chains open all day on Thanksgiving. As for Christmas, he said that day is still sacred among shoppers.

“The floodgates have opened,” Beahm said. “People will turn Thanksgiving Day shopping into a tradition as they historically have on the day after Thanksgiving ... And stores don’t want to be left behind.”

Indeed. According to surveys by market research firm The NPD Group, 8 percent of consumers have already completed their holiday shopping and 2 percent have finished 80 percent of their shopping.

But so far, it’s unclear whether opening on Thanksgiving boosts retailers’ top line or simply pushes forward sales from Black Friday. Last year, it was the latter: Sales on Thanksgiving were $810 million, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak.

But business dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year. That day accounted for about 4.3 percent of holiday sales last year.

“You don’t have more relatives, and you certainly don’t have more money in your pocket because stores are open more hours,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with the NPD Group.

Some major retailers first experimented with opening on Thanksgiving Day in 2009. That year, the National Retail Federation found that only 3 percent of people surveyed who shopped on Black Friday weekend started at midnight on Thanksgiving or earlier. But in 2012 that number shot up to about 28 percent.

“Customers clearly showed that they wanted to be out shopping much earlier on Thanksgiving,” said Amy von Walter, a spokeswoman for Best Buy, which moved up its opening this year to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving from midnight on Black Friday in 2012. “Our plan this holiday is a direct result of that feedback.”

To be sure, the issue is divisive among shoppers. Some have strongly voiced opinions that the holiday should remain sacred and that store employees should not have to work. Some even have threatened on retailers’ Facebook pages that they will boycott stores that open on Thanksgiving.

Given the controversy, opening on Thanksgiving can be a difficult decision for retailers to make.

For instance, last year, Macy’s and J.C. Penney didn’t open on Thanksgiving evening as competitors did. Both chains say they wanted to honor their workers’ time with their families. But this year, they changed their tune.

Tony Bartlett, executive vice president of Penney’s stores, said the company decided to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year because of customer feedback. He also said Penney store employees wanted to open on Thanksgiving so they could get the chance to better compete with rivals.

“Obviously, we were one of the last to open” last year, Bartlett said, referring to the chain’s 6 a.m. opening in 2012. But he said this year, “We’re all in.”

Some retailers are letting employees decide if they want to work that day, but sweetening the offer with extra holiday pay. A half dozen Teavana employees volunteered to work at the new Plaza store. Some mom-and-pops and corporate store managers plan to work the stores themselves instead of asking employees to come in.

The extra shopping day may come in handy. According to the NPD Group’s “Holiday Shop-o-Meter,” the majority of consumers (61 percent) have yet to start their holiday shopping and this year there’s nearly a week less to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas than in 2012.

The New York Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report. To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to jsmith@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/joycekc and on Facebook.

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