Retailers turn to Thanksgiving openings, but RadioShack dials it back a bit

Drew Harwell (c) 2014, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON — Not so long ago, the practice of a store staying closed on Thanksgiving was simply a given: one more holiday in which workers assumed they’d get some time off. Then, amid the corporate tug-of-war over Black Friday crowds, retailers began eyeing the juicy hours of Turkey Day as the best time to kick off their crucial holiday shopping seasons.

The move drew both sales and backlash from shoppers, who worried the sacred day was being plowed beneath the tough work schedules of Black Friday creep. Now, a core crew of retailers is pushing back, loudly proclaiming it will stay closed on Thanksgiving — and hoping the moral high ground will pay off even more.

Costco, GameStop, Nordstrom and at least two dozen other chains have sworn off opening on “Black Thursday,” putting themselves in the unique position of advertising that they’re closed. And though they’ll lose out on a day of bargain-hunting, they’re winning a type of publicity money can’t buy: One Today Show segment highlighting them is headlined, “Family trumps profits at these stores.”

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Storefronts that long competed on door-busters and discounts are now fighting over a new distinction, analysts said: Who’s better to their employees? It is morality as a marketing scheme, and it’s adding a new tension to how retailers will compete during some of the busiest shopping days of the year.

“Thanksgiving openings are not one size fits all,” said Kathy Grannis, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation. “If a company chooses to stay closed, one of the reasons is definitely that they don’t feel their customers would find it of value. And for the others, they may have already had tremendous success and feel their shoppers will be lined up once again this year.”

Corporate promotions of Thanksgiving closures have hammered home the point that they’re ditching a day of sales-grabbing for holiday cheer. GameStop said it would close on the holiday “out of respect for our store associates and their families and friends.” A spokesperson for the parent company of Marshalls and T.J. Maxx said, “We consider ourselves an Associate-friendly Company.”

Some have been more timid about their decision-making, with Costco saying in a statement, “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.” Others have been much more vocal: To announce last year they’d close for Turkey Day, Menards, a home-improvement chain, bought a full-page newspaper ad.

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“Some things are sacred, including spending time with family and loved ones on Thanksgiving and other holidays,” said Jim von Maur, president of Von Maur, a Midwest department store chain, in an announcement last year. “We profitably run our business during the remaining 358 days of the year, so we don’t have to sacrifice tradition for the sake of sales.”

Companies don’t make the decision to swear off selling stuff on the holiday lightly. A survey by consulting firm Accenture found that 45 percent of Americans planned to shop on Turkey Day, up from 38 percent last year. And most shoppers had few qualms about leaving the holiday dinner table: 32 percent of shoppers said they would avoid brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving because it would interfere with family time, down from 41 percent last year.

For the country’s biggest retailers, Black Thursday business has proven too attractive to avoid. Walmart, the country’s biggest private employer, will be open all day, with the best deals starting right around dinner time. J.C. Penney, Best Buy and Toys ‘R’ Us will open at 5 p.m., and Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears and Target will open at 6, for those unable to wait to save $20.99 on a Little Tykes Trampoline.

Some of the stores will stay open all night and marathon into Black Friday: Kmart will let shoppers in at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and stay open for 42 hours straight.

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And several could use all the buying help they could get. Target, which will open two hours earlier than it did last Thanksgiving, has been seeing fewer customers and has resorted to closing some of its big-box stores. RadioShack will open more than 3,000 stores Thanksgiving morning for the first time ever, after losing revenue 10 quarters in a row. After initially announcing the new openings on Thanksgiving, RadioShack dialed it back a bit. According to a company spokeswoman, the retailer, while opening at 8 a.m., will close for a few hours in the middle of the day. The company was responding to requests from its employees, according to the spokeswoman.

The stores refusing to open on the holiday, however, may feel the moral capital they gain from looking like the good guys could mean more for their brand in the long run. A study last month by retail site RichRelevance found more than 60 percent of Americans said they disliked that stores opened on Thanksgiving, and only 12 percent said they liked the trend. The movement is gaining steam: A “Boycott Black Thursday” Facebook page has more than 79,000 “likes.”

Some of the stores, analysts added, may feel like opening on Thanksgiving isn’t worth the trouble, or the paid overtime. There is also the potential for martyrdom: In a mall outside Buffalo, New York, store managers told TV news crews they were worried they would be fined if they didn’t open with the rest of the mall Thanksgiving evening.

But perhaps the cherry on top for most of the stores staying closed on the holiday (including American Girl, Barnes & Noble, Bed, Bath and Beyond, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Burlington Coat Factory, Costco, Crate and Barrel, Dillard’s, DSW, GameStop, Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, Home Depot, Jo Ann Fabrics, Lowe’s, Marshalls, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Petco, Pier 1, Publix, REI, Sam’s Club, Sur La Table, Talbots and T.J. Maxx)?

Consumer research from Deloitte found that 70 percent of holiday shopping would take place after Thanksgiving anyway. – Additional reporting by Robert Francis, Fort Worth Business Press