As the holidays near, retailers face a dilemma: Open on Thanksgiving and stand accused of ruining a national holiday or stay closed and risk losing sales.
J.C. Penney, Staples and Macy’s are in the first camp, opening earlier this Thanksgiving in a bid to draw bargain hunters. Nordstrom and Costco plan to remain closed, saying their employees deserve time with their families.
Though each strategy carries risks, the Thanksgiving Day holdouts face the possibility that consumers will be tapped out by the time they finally open when the sun rises on Black Friday. The possibility is even more acute as the choppy economic recovery restrains Americans’ spending and the Internet lets them devise detailed plans for landing the best deals.
“The cost to not open is more because it can cause market share loss if your direct competitor is open,” said Poonam Goyal, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. “If the middle-income shopper only has $500 to spend and Wal-Mart snatches $400 of it Thursday, there’s only $100 left for retailers to snatch Friday.”
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J.C. Penney said this week it will unlock its doors at 5 p.m., compared with 8 p.m. in 2013. Toys R Us will let in shoppers at 5 p.m., the same time as last year. Macy’s said last month it would open at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year.
Wal-Mart hasn’t announced Thanksgiving plans for this year, but most stores operate 24 hours a day and would already be open on the holiday.
Spokesmen for J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Costco didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Even consumers who don’t venture outside may still do some shopping that day. Thanksgiving is poised to feature the seasons’ best offers online, with steeper discounts than on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to Adobe Systems’ 2014 Digital Index Online Shopping forecast.
Despite some backlash on social media calling for the holiday to be preserved for family time, retailers are trying to meet customer demand. About 45 percent of consumers plan to shop on Thanksgiving, according to a survey released last month by consulting firm Accenture.
“Holidays are becoming an excuse for people to go shopping, so the notion people are hanging around the fireplace on a holiday is long gone,” said Allen Adamson, chairman of North America for brand consultant Landor Associates in New York. “People are used to shopping whenever they want to, whether the store is open or not.”
The National Retail Federation has said holiday spending will rise 4.1 percent this year, beating last year’s 3.1 percent gain. Holiday shopping is key for retailers, with sales in November and December accounting for about 19 percent of annual revenue, according to the federation.
Consumers are expected to spend more this year. U.S. shoppers are forecast to shell out 9 percent more on gifts this holiday season, the most since 2010, according to a report from Deloitte. Still, they are looking for bargains when they buy, with 74 percent of those surveyed by Deloitte saying they would be influenced by a coupon or promotional offer, the same percentage as last year.
Thanksgiving still isn’t a major shopping day on par with Black Friday, at least not yet. Less than one-third of retailers plan to be open on the holiday, according to a survey of 800 merchants by JLL Retail. The day accounted for only 10 percent of shopper traffic during the holiday weekend last year, according to researcher ShopperTrak.