In the past few years, Black Friday has pushed further and further into Thanksgiving Thursday, with retailers constantly trying to one-up their competitors just to get customers in the door. The phenomenon of more and more retailers remaining open on Thanksgiving has given rise to the phrase “Gray Thursday.”
Americans have been beginning their holiday season shopping as early as September, according to the Wall Street Journal, and data analyzed at PayPal seems to support that statement. According to Forbes, “the 2014 U.S. shopping season started sometime between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. PDT on September 30, when [PayPal] noticed a 62.81% spike in payment transactions.”
Major retailers such as Walmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Target all open on Thanksgiving in an effort to lure customers into their stores. This year Macy’s has said it will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, two hours earlier than it did last year; Walmart plans to stay open all day and Kmart plans to open at 6 a.m. on the morning of Thanksgiving. But the practice of opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday and “Gray Thursday” is hard on employees, who often work long hours in lieu of spending time with their families on what is arguably the most important holiday on the American calendar.
But some retailers have decided that this is the year to push back against that trend. Nordstrom, Costco, Barnes & Noble, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, DSW, Pier 1 Imports, Burlington Coat Factory, Petco, Radioshack, GameStop, Patagonia, REI, Dillard’s, American Girl, and a host of others all report that they will stay closed for the entire day on Thanksgiving.
The retailers who have decided to remain closed on Thanksgiving haven’t kept quiet about it, either. On the contrary, Nordstrom posted an ad on its Facebook page, which read “we won’t be decking our halls until Black Friday…because we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time.” The post received more than 20,000 likes on the social networking site. Similarly, a regional electronics chain, P.C. Richard & Son took out full-page ads which read “Save Thanksgiving.”
A spokesperson for TJ Maxx said that the store’s decision to remain closed on Thanksgiving is a reflection of their values. “We consider ourselves an associate-friendly company, and, we are pleased to give our associates the time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends,” the spokesperson said, per ThinkProgress. Other retailers have offered similar reasons for their decision to remain closed; Laura Sen, CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club told the Huffington Post last year, “maybe call me old-fashioned, but I feel that it’s an easy decision to make.”
Time magazine notes that implicit in the idea of TJ Maxx as an “associate-friendly” company is the idea that any company which opens its doors on Thanksgiving is automatically an “unfriendly” place for employees. Costco’s statement reads in a similar vein; “our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend time with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.”
And while Americans do seem to be starting their holiday season shopping earlier than ever, it turns out that Nordstrom, P.C. Richard & Son, and others might have a valid point. According to Quartz, “closing on Thanksgiving can improve sales on Black Friday. In fact, opening on Thanksgiving might actually be bad business: income derived on that day is often at the expense of Black Friday, not in addition to it,” the online magazine notes.
Staying closed on Thanksgiving, it turns out, could have a measurably positive affect on a company’s image. It seems like most Americans aren’t too fond of the idea of stores opening on Thanksgiving, even if 49% of them admit that they will probably shop on Thanksgiving. A late October study by RichRelevance, a retail personalization engine, found that 36% of Americans “hate” the practice of shopping on a holiday, while another 26% “dislike” it. Altogether, more than 60% of the population disapproves to some degree of the idea of employees working on Thanksgiving, while a mere 12% “like” or “love” that stores are remaining open on Turkey Day.
Ironically, even Black Friday, it appears, isn’t the deal-fest that so many consumers assume it is. According to a Wall Street Journal report from 2012, which analyzed six years worth of pricing data, Black Friday isn’t necessarily the best time to buy if you want the best deal. According to New York Magazine, from a behavioral economist’s perspective, Black Friday is a nightmare. Every door-buster deal and potential incentive the national holiday shopping superstorm promises is “largely illusory or outweighed by a disincentive on the other side.”
John Barbour, CEO of the electronic toymaker LeapFrog Enterprises LLC agrees. In a recent interview he told the Wall Street Journal, “in the old days all of the great deals were on Black Friday, but now you see some great deals on Black Friday and lots of offers throughout the holiday season.”
And those other, better times to buy usually don’t necessitate standing in a massive line or crowd freezing your butt off in the brisk November air. For instance, in its analysis of pricing data over the past six years, the Wall Street Journal found that the best time to buy Ugg boots is September or October, before Black Friday even hits (consequently, the price of a pair of Uggs increases by 59% on Black Friday and Cyber Monday), while certain other items, like Kitchen Aid mixers along with other kitchen appliances and tools actually decrease in price after the shopping bonanza. According to the data, the best time to buy a Kitchen Aid is actually in mid-December, when prices drop by about 20%.
And what about the most popular gift items, like jewelry, toys and TVs? The Wall Street Journal says that earlier is better; the lowest prices for items in all three categories can be found in October, before the holiday season rush.
Which leads us to the obvious question: Why do we still participate in Black Friday? If there are better deals at different parts of the season, and most of us don’t even like all the commotion, why do we go? Why do we stand in line for ages, and even trample our fellow human beings to get to the latest and greatest high-def TV? The answer just might be that, much like Thanksgiving, it’s all about tradition.