Should Stores Be Open On Thanksgiving Essay Prompts

A titanic struggle is taking shape across America this Thanksgiving.

Walmart, Kmart, Macy's, Target and other retailers will be open on Thanksgiving — a choice, they say, dictated by their customers' desires.

Nordstrom, Costco, Crate and Barrel, Marshalls and others will remain closed so their employees can enjoy Thanksgiving with friends and family. These retailers boast that they're more family-friendly than rivals.

This issue — should stores open on Thanksgiving? — divides Americans, too.

The Thanksgiving-before-Christmas crowd (call them Thanksgiving Firsters) believe in savoring Thanksgiving for its full 24 hours, without a distracting scramble for Christmas door-buster sales.

Christmas Early Birds, however, believe that stores should fling their doors open before the last drumstick disappears, the better for the Early Birders to display their Christmas shopping prowess and coast into the holiday season, gloating about how they completed their gifting mission in record time.

Since we believe in a free market, we applaud both stances. And we think both are family-friendly ... in different ways.

Retailers that stay closed gain the appreciation of employees who want to spend the holiday with their friends and family.

Those that stay open curry the favor of millions of American families who, having scarfed down the turkey, gorged on the football and relished family reunions, suddenly find themselves in need of a place to ... escape from their families. You know what we're saying. Movies and bars are open. Why not stores?

Fewer people say they expect to shop on Thanksgiving this year than last, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation. But that could — and likely will — change. "You're done with dinner, you've got family in town, you're bored, it's Thursday night at 7 p.m.," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the federation. "That's the same mentality that goes into a shopper's mind every year."

Sure, we've heard a lot of complaints about Holiday Creep. Halloween barely has time to say boo before the pumpkin pies appear. Long before the turkey is gobbled, stores are Yuletide-decked and Christmas carols hark. Crammed into these hectic weeks are Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, all but lost in Santa's shadow.

But holidays are bound to overlap in this dizzying 24/7 culture, if only because Americans are restless, easily bored and ever vigilant for bargains. Shopping is a competitive sport that rewards sharp eyes and elbows, huge reserves of endurance and a relentless drive to snag the next new thing. Then, too, even if stores are closed, eBay isn't.

Is Holiday Creep really so bad? Nah. Last year's collision of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah — the holidays fell on the same day for the first time in more than a century — didn't leave any welts, did it? Americans are masters of the multitask.

We understand why tens of thousands of people have signed a petition on urging Target to remain closed on Thanksgiving. And why a Boycott Black Thursday page is gathering thousands of Facebook likes. Employees at stores that open on Thanksgiving may not get to choose how they'll spend the holiday. And those who get the day off because the store is closed? We bet some of them will spend it ... shopping at other stores.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of gratitude — for friends, family, a bounty of blessings and ... challenges. Whether you're an Early Bird marauding the aisles or a Thanksgiving Firster reveling in a day of rest and feast, take a few moments to say thanks.

The day after Thanksgiving, often called Black Friday, traditionally indicated the beginning of the annual promotional frenzy, but that idea became quaint in recent years. In the post-recession age of Amazon, people want the deals they have grown accustomed to finding, especially online, whenever they want them, and the season began expanding.

“Consumers now know that they don’t have to line up at five o’clock in the morning,” said Joel Bines, a co-head of the retail arm of AlixPartners, an advisory firm.

That pressure to cut prices deeper and earlier drove many more retailers to begin opening on Thanksgiving about five years ago. And many are still staying open this year, including traditional department stores like Kohl’s and J. C. Penney. Macy’s, the country’s largest department store, will be open even in shopping centers that will be closed, like Mall of America.

Opening on Thanksgiving makes sense for these and other retailers that rely heavily on promotions. Stores like Walmart and Target, which will both open this year, still offer the kinds of door-buster sales on televisions and electronics that rally customers to line up early, even in the cold, Mr. Bines said.

Yet over all, the number of people shopping on Thanksgiving Day has been declining. Last year, 34.6 million adults shopped on Thanksgiving, down from 43.1 million in 2014 and 44.8 million in 2013, according to annual surveys from the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

In 2014, total sales for the Thanksgiving weekend fell 11 percent from the previous year, according to the most recent year-over-year comparison from the retail federation.

“That is one of the reasons why we took the initiative of giving our associates Thanksgiving off, because we have seen that activity go down significantly on that day over the last couple of years,” Robert Riesbeck, HHGregg’s chief executive, told analysts during a recent conference call.

Part of the challenge for retailers is figuring out whether Thanksgiving generates more overall sales, or just takes shoppers, and therefore sales, away from Black Friday. About 18 percent of people who shopped on Thanksgiving did not shop the day after, yet the earlier shoppers generated about 30 percent of all sales during the two-day periods in 2014 and 2015, according to an analysis from the research firm NPD Group.

Retailers who generate more sales can expect to earn a profit margin of 16 percent for the weekend, according to AlixPartners. But retailers that just take sales away from Black Friday by opening on Thanksgiving may generate only 3 percent.

Retailers are now rethinking whether the potential benefits outweigh other headaches, like the negative publicity that comes with forcing employees to work on a national holiday.

Initially, stores that opened on Thanksgiving tried to use the announcement as a way to show consumers that their needs were being catered to. But closing on Thanksgiving is also a way for companies to send the message that they are socially responsible, which could help endear them to the increasingly important millennial consumer.

In a separate announcement in October, for example, HHGregg said that it had chosen to close because of its core “family-first” values, and that it believed employees should be at home. Office Depot, too, said that its decision to close came after weighing the “business and personal dynamics.” A spokesman for Sears, Brian Hanover, said the company had made a similar evaluation.

“There’s been a lot of discussion and pushback both ways,” Ms. Liebmann, of WSL Strategic Retail, said.

But there are also logistical issues, like keeping shelves fully stocked through Black Friday.

“There’s a number of things that can make it challenging to have two huge days, one right after the other,” said Joel Alden, a partner in the retail practice of A. T. Kearney, a consulting firm. “You can’t move inventory to the store when you have that much traffic in it.”

Retailers also want to use one of the busiest times of years to hook new customers with special promotions and merchandise. But making a bad impression — tired staff, poorly stocked shelves — can have the opposite effect.

“If you do a lousy job over the Thanksgiving period, it may be a while before those customers come back and visit you again,” Mr. Alden said.

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