SHOP, BEFORE THE TURKEY GETS COLD
c.2013 New York Times News Service
Teenagers and college students can spend only so much time cooped up with their families on a holiday like Thanksgiving.
This year, some retailers are betting that this target spending group dashes out the door after dinner, perhaps dodging dishwashing or other duties, and in all likelihood ditching their parents.
Destination: the mall.
Teagan Marshall, 20, of New York City, said shopping on Thanksgiving definitely had appeal. As she stood in a Forever 21 in Manhattan, she added, “That seems like a good way to celebrate to me.”
Happy to oblige, some major department stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney are opening their doors at 8 p.m. on the holiday for the first time. Others that were already chipping away at Black Friday are opening a little earlier on Thanksgiving night.
Target opens at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than last year. Toys R Us will be open at 5 p.m. And Tanger Outlets, which has malls in 26 states, starts at 10 p.m.
“Nobody is going to be allowed to host a party on Thanksgiving night, so they’re all going to meet at the mall,” said John D. Morris, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “It’s like a built-in social occasion to get out of the house.”
American Eagle stores, which cater to a young crowd, will open some stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night and give a free cinch bag to customers who spend at least $60.
Retailers have long scrambled to be the first place shoppers open their wallets in the holiday season, a race to the front that has pushed the discounts ever earlier into the fall and elbowed Black Friday events — recognizable by intense sales and equally intense crowds — into Thanksgiving Day. But industry watchers say that this fanning out of promotions may be taking some of the vigor, and some of the sales, out of Black Friday itself.
“Every day we get closer, we hear about another chain of stores that will be open and another chain open earlier,” said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, a research firm. “Historical reference says they’re seeing sales on Thursday at the expense of sales they’d see on Black Friday. It’s bleeding over a bit.”
Last year, ShopperTrak found that store visits on the Friday after Thanksgiving were up 3.5 percent, and the National Retail Federation says it remains the biggest shopping day of the year. Yet sales on Black Friday fell 1.8 percent last year, according to ShopperTrak, the first decrease since the 2008 recession.
But just because people shop earlier does not mean they spend more.
“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 at NPD Group, a retail research company.
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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 Black Friday weekend said they started at midnight on Thanksgiving or earlier. By last year, that number had shot up to about 28 percent.
Still, the definition of early shopping keeps expanding. More than three months before Christmas, Kmart began airing commercials featuring a giant Gingerbread man and another later on with a Snowman and the slogan, “Don’t let the holidays sneak up on you.”
Macy’s headquarters in Herald Square in Manhattan already has some of its Christmas windows on display.
On Tuesday, the National Retail Federation said that promotions as far back as early October had succeeded, estimating that about 50 percent or so of shoppers had already begun their holiday spending.
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Some of the pressure comes from the threat of online shopping to brick-and-mortar retailers. If a TV can be bought on Amazon.com at any time on Thanksgiving, then retailers feel they had better open their doors, too.
“Black Friday is our Super Bowl,” said Deisha Barnett, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, which will begin its Black Friday deals at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, though most of its stores will be open 24 hours on Thursday. “And you can’t start playing at halftime if you’re going to win.”
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For many shoppers, chasing the deals is a game they play for themselves.
NPD Group found that 19 percent of people who went shopping on Black Friday weekend last year shopped, at least in part, for themselves. That peaked at 23 percent in 2008, according to Cohen of NPD, and he expected to see 19 percent again this year.
“Are you really buying a big-screen TV for somebody else?” Cohen said of an item often deeply discounted on Black Friday to lure in customers. “No.”
This year, retailers’ anxiety has been compounded by the shorter time this year — four weeks — between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the customary holiday shopping season.
“If you think of how the season is set up, it’s just stacked against them,” Morris, of BMO Capital Markets, said of retailers. “You’ve got the most compressed holiday season possible, so of course we’re going to get really promotional.”
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Caught up in this wave, of course, are store employees. Wal-Mart, which has been open on Thanksgiving since 1988, says its employees who work that holiday will make the equivalent of an extra day’s pay. Target says it will pay its employees time-and-a-half on Thanksgiving, and more for those who work certain shifts into Friday.
But according to Susan J. Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, many employees will not make an extra holiday dollar.
Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, a group that organizes for low-wage workers, said, “There are emergency and medical folks who have to work on Thanksgiving, but we really don’t see why we need an extra day to shop.”
She added: “I think this is a really terrible sign. We’ve become such a consumer driven society that we can’t stop for one day?”
Last year, and again this season, Change.org, an online petition platform, conducted drives that asked people not to shop on Thanksgiving, but the results were not as advocates had hoped.
“If the demand isn’t there, the stores won’t do it, so there was a real request not to sell your soul for a cheap toaster,” Lambert said. “Obviously, people shopped anyway.”
Nordstrom and Home Depot, however, are among major retailers resisting the growing trend of opening on Thanksgiving. But they and others will still offer plenty of sales and promotions on Black Friday, which Martin of ShopperTrak still expects to remain the top shopping day this year.
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And the early bird parade marches on, and on, and on, blurring the shopping seasons.
“Every year, it infringes more and more on the holiday,” said Walter F. Loeb, a longtime retail analyst.
Referring to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, he added, “Next year, I could visualize Santa Claus, instead of riding past Macy’s into oblivion on 34th Street, he’ll actually go into the store, and lead customers in.”