Mall managers, millions of store employees, and even some retail reporters and analysts have a special reason to give thanks today. The era of Thanksgiving store openings, and insanely early Black Friday start times, is over and its not coming back.
The pandemic helped deal the final blow to Thanksgiving openings, but even before Covid-19 hit, retailers had started to realize that opening on Thanksgiving day or evening was a turkey of an idea.
But during the previous decade so many retailers leaned into starting their Black Friday store deals earlier and earlier that many retail chains, and even malls, felt they had to open on Thanksgiving to stay competitive.
The pandemic made retailers wake up to a fact they should have realized earlier, that when someone can get a digital doorbuster of a deal online, from the comfort of their home on Thanksgiving, there is no need to open stores, and force employees to work on the holiday.
Retailers went crazy in the race to open earlier and earlier on Black Friday, even pushing into Thanksgiving, starting around 2009. They were driven by the longstanding retail rule that the first store a consumer shops on Black Friday will get the biggest share of that consumer’s wallet. If you opened at 5 a.m., the thinking went, you could get a jump on a competitor that opened at 7 a.m.
Walmart WMT stores at the time were open 24 hours a day, so they would have elaborate plans to rope off deal merchandise until 5 a.m. Black Friday, or 11 p.m. Thanksgiving night, or whenever they decided Black Friday began on a particular year.
Retailers in the early years of Thanksgiving openings justified them by noting that so many people were shopping online on Thanksgiving Day, and interrupting the holiday to search for digital deals, that it was reasonable to think they might want to come to stores too.
When Macy’s decided to join the crowd and open on Thanksgiving night, a number of malls reluctantly were required to open on Thanksgiving to keep one of their biggest anchor tenants happy.
Now, Walmart, which sets the pace for much of the retail world, is saying they like being closed on Thanksgiving so much that they are never going back to those days.
Target TGT executives have also said they expect the Thanksgiving closing decision to be permanent.
Being able to force store employees to work on Thanksgiving also was a throwback to the days of an abundant labor supply, and doesn’t work when retailers are having time finding enough staffers.
Washington Post columnist Heather Long, in an op ed piece, called the Great Resignation the key factor that killed off Thanksgiving store openings. Threatening to fire workers who don’t work on Thanksgiving doesn’t really work when you are already hoping they won’t quit.
Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of research and public relations at shopping center and retail marketplace trade group ICSC, said retailers have begun spreading out their deals ever earlier in the season, eliminating the need to put all the focus on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.
But the top reason why it is unlikely that Thanksgiving store openings are gone for good is that in the digital age, you don’t need them.
“I can shop from my couch just as easily on Thanksgiving night as I can from a store,” Cegielski said. “If retailers have their omnichannel strategy in place, it doesn’t matter what time they open.”