Black Thursday–Why Opening on Thanksgiving Isn’t Good for Business

Thanksgiving is a holiday in the United States by which family and friends traditionally gather together and celebrate life. It’s non-religious in nature, so people choose to observe it in a a variety of different ways. Some have parties, some use it to watch loads of sports, while others use it as a day of rest, as most people have the day off from work. 

Notice I said most. Essential public servants, such as police, firefighters, and medical personnel, work on Thanksgiving Day. Active military personnel are on duty. Plenty of business owners operate as well. Knowing this, people adapt and find ways to celebrate.

“My mother worked at Disney so she often worked the holiday. It wasn’t about the ‘day.’ My family made sure we celebrated the spirit of the holiday whether that happened the day before or the weekend after”~Sharlyn Lauby

In the retail industry most stores are closed on Thanksgiving Day, instead choosing to open early on Friday. That may be changing, at least amongst large retailers. Wal-Mart, Target, the Gap, and others are choosing to open on Thanksgiving. Some will be open all day, others will open in the evening (e.g., Target will open at 9 pm Thursday). It’s hoped that opening early, usually in combination with special discounts and savings, will help generate increased sales for these respective companies. Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving, is an important financial milestone for retailers. How well a business does on that day can provide a glimpse into how successful the remaining holiday season may be. Some estimates show that close to 40% of a retailers’ profits come during the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. And last year’s record breaking foot traffic and sales provide business leaders with reasons to push the envelope.

“Stuffed to the brim from their holiday meals and eager to shop, more consumers than ever turned out for retailers’ Black Friday promotions, a promising sign for the economic recovery,” ~Matthew Shay, President and CEO, National Retail Federation (NRF)

But is the concept of “Black Thursday”–retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day–good for businesses, consumers, and employees? In terms of hard data, that can’t be answered until after the day has passed and sales figures are tallied. I can give you my opinion, for what it’s worth, and I believe that it’s not.

Here are a few arguments against Black Thursday:

Consumer backlash. Most people line up in the early morning hours of Black Friday in order to purchase items being sold in limited quantities at a significant discount. Obviously, this comes out of a businesses bottom line. Increased competition to attract consumers will result in a “race to the bottom” mentality amongst businesses which can only go but so far. Delivering rock bottom prices means that more units need to be sold in order to turn a profit. This puts increased demands on front line employees to deliver on sales projections. 

For managers this may also result in making the decision to actually having less employees working during these critical moments. Consumers may not be aware that labor and scheduling is considered a controllable expense. Schedules and sales coverage is constantly being evaluated and adjusted so that profit and efficiency targets can be met. In a store environment this can be the cause of why there aren’t enough registers open or associates on the sales floor to assist customers with their needs. And regardless of staff coverage, the increased foot traffic shifts the focus for staff more on crowd control than to providing a quality customer experience. At best this can lead to both parties being frustrated with each other. In extreme cases this can contribute to incidences of rude behavior or even violence, as seen in previous years during Black Friday events. 

Employee backlash. This is not the first year that retailers have opened on Thanksgiving. However, what has been gaining steam (and getting attention on the news) is vocal employee opposition to this practice. Last year Target employees delivered petitions containing close to 200, 000 signatures. The petitions were to protest the retail chain’s decision to open stores at midnight. This year Target has chosen to open its locations at 9 pm Thursday. Similar petitions, both specifically for Target as well as for other retailers, have appeared. 

Along with petitions have been other concerted activity by employees. For example, workers from Wal-Mart have planned to walk out to protest, amongst other reasons, the company’s decision to open at 9 pm on Thanksgiving Day. 
Third-party backlash. As I mentioned before, plenty of businesses and service providers are active on Thanksgiving Day. Restaurants are open, as are movie theaters. One of the troubling aspects of having large retailers shift their hours of operations is its impact outside the organization. This change doesn’t occur in isolation. Vendors which supply goods and services have to adjust. Malls and business districts have to provide additional security staff to handle the large crowds, unless they want to have further incidents. And if there is one, those public servants I mentioned earlier may have to be involved. These are unnecessary strains.

“As a consumer… I like the option and if I consume I treat the workers extra nice and tip really big. As an employer… pay them out the ying-yang if you make them work.”~Lois Melbourne

To be fair, most customers don’t indulge in poor behavior. And employees work hard to meet and exceed expectations, both of the customers and of the companies they work for. They want the business to succeed. And in many places Black Friday shopping has become an emerging community tradition. That being said, shifting the event into Thanksgiving day is a bad idea. The increased demands both on consumers and businesses will ultimately create an environment–for customers, employees, and third parties–that does more harm than good.

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