Retailers too Ambitious this Holiday – or just Staying Competitive?

There’s been lots of fuss about the holiday hours at major US retailers this year. Much of that fuss is coming from the employees who may not get their normal Thanksgiving holiday break, while the rest is an intense questioning about whether customers really want to head to the mall at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night to line up.

At Target, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition on asking the retailer not to open its doors at midnight on Thanksgiving. Instead, workers propose it should open at 5 a.m. on Friday to allow everyone more time with family, according to a Huffington Post article.*

Macy’s will be opening at midnight for a slew of deals while WalMart has decided to open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. But one of the earliest opening retailers (aside from Kmart which for years has stayed open all of Thanksgiving day) is the one for kids, who presumably will be in bed by the time their parents head out. Toys “R” Us plans to get a head-start by opening at 9 p.m. the night of Thanksgiving, offering more than 100 deals which will display in a 28-page circular in newspapers across the country. Toys”R”Us CMO, Greg Ahearn, expressed his enthusiasm for the opening to International Business Times, but didn’t address any employee push-back or whether there has been any. And whether or not these retailers believe offering deals so much earlier is a risk that could cause customer backlash hasn’t stopped them from taking the plunge.

One retailer believes that opening so early this holiday won’t add much value to customers who would rather be spending that time with their families on Thanksgiving. Sears stores will open at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, despite its decision last year to open on Turkey Day. A company spokesperson said that Sears made this decision in response to its customers who they did not want to force to come to stores at midnight to get deals.

There is also debate over whether customers will support such early openings or protest them in support of the employees who are forced to leave their celebrations and head to work.

And finally, a comment about the elephant in the room: ecommerce. Do all these retailers really need to open so early when there is so much opportunity for online shopping these days?

“With more customers going online to do their holiday shopping, we’ve seen an increased use of our online tools like the ‘buy online, pick up in store’ function, which let customers pre-purchase items — and access Black Friday deals — from the comfort of their homes and conveniently pick them up in-store,” said Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp., which owns Sears and Kmart, in an article in the Courier News.

So I ask you – are these retailers getting too ambitious or are these measures just par for the competitive course of retail these days? And if so, where does it stop? Will Black Friday next year be Black Wednesday? Or will retailers start to take further advantage of digital tools to encourage shopping through other channels next holiday?


*UPDATE: According to an article in Reuters on Monday, Nov. 21, Target Corp. received six red-and-white Target bags full of petitions Monday signed by 190,000 people to protest stores opening for “Black Friday” sales at midnight after Thanksgiving. The petitions were delivered by Seth Coleman, a Target employee, and were the result of an effort started by Anthony Hardwick, a Nebraska employee who said the proposal interfered with family time that employees had rights to enjoy.