Archive for Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Friday sales now competing with Thanksgiving

Shoppers stream into the Lawrence Kohl's store at its opening at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, 2010. This year, many retailers are pushing the envelope and opening on Thanksgiving.

Shoppers stream into the Lawrence Kohl's store at its opening at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, 2010. This year, many retailers are pushing the envelope and opening on Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving was once about gathering with family to give thanks, enjoy a meal and probably watch a football game or two with family — and then maybe get to bed early to rest up for the crack-of-dawn Black Friday sales.

But more and more, retailers aren’t waiting until the day for giving thanks is over to open their doors for deal-seeking Christmas shoppers.

Several retailers started opening at midnight on Friday in recent years, and this year, many have made the choice to open in the late hours of Thanksgiving Day.

The need for retailers to maximize sales in the downtrodden economy, and the need for customers to get the best deals, has lessened the importance of any unspoken rules that kept stores closed on Thanksgiving in the past, says Dennis Rosen, an associate business professor at Kansas University.

“Retailers have been playing a game of one-upmanship for a while with Black Friday, moving it from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. or earlier,” Rosen said. “Obviously, it starts to become impractical for many consumers to take advantage of sales held so early in the morning. This has led some stores to start opening at midnight. So it is not surprising that the next step would be to move ‘Black Friday’ up to late Thursday evening.”

Some stores may be sticking to their guns by opening only on Friday rather than on the holiday — Kohl’s, for example, will be open for 24 hours straight, but that won’t begin until midnight Friday. But many are taking that next step — the biggest example being Walmart, which is opening its stores at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. And then there are some going to an even greater extreme, like Old Navy, which has several locations open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The concept isn’t entirely new, if not previously widespread. The Legends Outlets Kansas City first began allowing shops to open at midnight on Black Friday about three years ago, when 10 stores asked to do it.

“It’s fairly common in outlet centers, so several years ago, it actually started with retailers saying they had heard requests from customers,” said Amy Kraft, marketing manager for The Legends.

Thus began the outlet’s “Moonlight Magic” all-night shopping event, and each year, more and more of the shopping center’s stores took part. Last year was the first in which the stores opened for Black Friday sales at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and this year, some will be open even earlier.

Is all this enough to offset the negatives for employees who must work the holiday, the employers who must pay them holiday pay, and shoppers, who may feel negatively about retailers intruding on their day of giving thanks? Kraft thinks so.

“It’s probably one in our top three busiest days of the year, if not our number one, right there between 10 p.m. and midnight,” she said.

She said shoppers don’t seem to have a problem with starting their Christmas shopping soon after finishing their Thanksgiving meals and family time.

“When I watch the people, it’s something that the families come out (for); it seems like it’s being worked into some families’ traditions,” Kraft said. “The values are so good; a lot of our stores are anywhere from 30 to 50 percent off; there’s even 60 percent off. In today’s economy, where that’s so important to people, they’ve kind of adjusted Thanksgiving, what their activities will be. If they can get all their shopping done at half price, it suddenly becomes a priority.”

Rosen agreed that since many people have their Thanksgiving meal in the afternoon, it makes them available for evening shopping.

“And the strong holiday spirit that naturally develops around this start of the season might really put them in the mood to spend,” Rosen said.

The retailers hope that consumers will shop the specials and also pick up nonsales items to go with them, Rosen said. The hope also is that customers will then return to their stores during the holidays because they liked what they saw on Black Friday. Having the shopping event on Thursday evening also may help retailers get an edge on competition, including the online stores, he said.

“Certainly this change in strategy will, and has, generated publicity,” he said. “Retailers who do it will just have to hope that the publicity is helpful and response by consumers is positive. My bet is that it will be. And then the question becomes: What happens next year?”

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