Retailers Opening on Thanksgiving is a Failed Experiment of Corporate Greed

And the ones who decided to close, likely did it because sales aren't strong.

This is what Walmart looks like on Thanksgiving. (Gray Thursday KF Walmart/Wikimedia Commons)

This is what Walmart looks like on Thanksgiving. (Gray Thursday KF Walmart/Wikimedia Commons)

Call me old fashioned, but in my day the retail-blitz called Black Friday started on the Friday after Thanksgiving — not on Thanksgiving night. In fact, when I was a kid, you could hardly find any businesses open on Thanksgiving. Maybe a local gas station. And I’m only in my 30s.

But big retail chains decided a few years ago that it was suddenly acceptable to open on Thanksgiving night — meaning thousands of employees were forced to forgo time with family, decline that extra glass of wine and forget kicking back to watch the late NFL game. If they work at Macy’s, Target, Walmart, Toys R’ Us, or plenty of other stores, they’ve got to go to work.

The motivation behind opening on Thanksgiving is pretty simple: Most customers have free time and will shop online anyway — so why not get them in the stores where they can get a deal, then buy a bunch of extra stuff they probably don’t need?

But this year, a growing number of brands (like Costco, Home Depot, and Marshalls) have reversed course and decided to close on Thanksgiving. That’s pleasing to the countless consumer groups and employee-rights organizations sprouting up on Facebook and Twitter. Just this week, Nordstrom and H&M announced that they’ll close on Thanksgiving too.

To the customer, it shows that the brand cares more about people than it does about profits. To the employees, it positions the company as an employer of choice that won’t force you to work on a holiday.

But before you crown these companies as noble, realize there’s an underlying reason that many stores are closing on Thanksgiving — it’s not a big-money holiday after all. A study from the International Council of Shopping Centers cited in this Fortune article, finds that just 12 percent of Americans are planning to go shopping on Thanksgiving. It won’t even be one of the top 10 shopping days of the year, according to ShopperTrak.

Plus, for some retailers the goodwill they get by closing on Thanksgiving — in a very loud, public way — trumps any potential revenue and gives their brand a big lift. Take REI for example. The outdoor apparel company has a crunchy, granola-friendly culture, so closing Thanksgiving night — and on Black Friday — moves its brand in the right direction.

Nordstrom is another brand that benefits greatly. It has a focus on customer service and loyalty — and its clientele isn’t really the type that would camp out on Thanksgiving night for a $10 sweater anyway. So why not just close and appear to be catering to employees?

“Nordstrom is all about sales associates and how they treat the customers,” said Barbara Kahn marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “The strategy makes sense to honor employees by letting them spend time with family. Treating employees right is what Nordstrom stands for.”

Still, Target somehow believes that opening its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving allows people to take part in family activities then still come to work or go shopping.

“Six p.m. continues to be the right opening time for us,” Target Chief Stores Officer Tina Tyler said according to Fortune. “It felt good to us last year to be able to allow those family traditions to take place around Thanksgiving, but also let shopping be part of it,” she added.

Give me a break. It’s really about taking a bite out of people’s Christmas budgets before anyone else has a chance.

“Everybody is coming for that wallet-share as quickly as possible,” said Rajneesh Suri, professor of marketing for the Lebow College of Business at Drexel University. “Once it goes away, it’s gone the next day.”

But sadly, don’t expect much to change because of consumer pushback. Despite the backlash against retailers opening on Thanksgiving, it’s unlikely to make much of a difference in buying habits. Look at how many people claimed they would boycott Chick-Fil-A after President Dan Cathy came out against gay marriage. Soon after, sales soared anyway.

“A lot of studies show that when push comes to shove, many customers will still buy what they want wherever they can get it,” said Kahn. “I don’t know how many people really follow through on [boycotts and protests]. If they need a particular item and it’s in that store, they tend to march right off to that store and buy it.”

Here’s a list of stores closed on Thanksgiving:

American Girl
Barnes and Noble
Burlington Coat Factory
Crate & Barrel
Guitar Center
Half Price Books
The Home Depot
Jo-Ann Fabrics
Mattress Firm
P.C. Richard & Son
Pier 1
Sam’s Club
T.J. Maxx

Here’s a list of stores open on Thanksgiving:

Best Buy
Dollar General
HH Gregg
J.C. Penney
Old Navy
Sports Authority
Toys R Us