Why are more businesses shunning Thanksgiving Day sales?

Rising costs and a renewed backlash may be to blame. 

Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn
An employee adjusts a large ribbon on a television display at Walmart as the store prepares for Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. last year.

The days of a lethargic post-turkey Thanksgiving may be over for many as retailers seemingly push to get a jump on Black Friday sales earlier every year.

But after a national trend expanding the Christmas shopping season to Thanksgiving Day, and the weeks leading up to it, more businesses are beginning to pull back.

One such example played out recently in Ann Arbor, Mich. – where a renewed protest chastised a local mall for its plan to open on Thanksgiving – a practice national labor groups also berate as unfair.

A Facebook page called “Boycott Black Thursday,” has more than 140,000 likes, and a petition circulating online is trying to urge Congress to make Black Friday a national holiday.

Many credit Wal-Mart’s 2009 decision to open on Thanksgiving night with causing the national trend, even as more businesses and chain stores reconsider the concept.

But the move may have less to do with compassion for employees and more with the bottom economic line.

According to the National Retail Federation, the early Black Friday launch has caused costs to rise, while last year saw an 11 percent drop in Black Friday weekend sales, potentially leading to a shift in thought. 

The federation said in 2014 retail spending dropped about $5 billion during a four-day shopping bonanza beginning on Thanksgiving Day, a slump from 2013 when shoppers shelled out $51 billion during a four-day period.

The group said overall roughly 136 million people would shop during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Stores that do remain open are doubling down on the exceedingly low sale prices that first drew shoppers in to the early-morning deals.  The New York Daily News cited one survey through RetailMeNot showing some shoppers began their Christmas purchases on Labor Day.

“Deal are being spread out and they’re earlier this year but we’re definitely seeing that Thanksgiving will be incredible and the best of the year,” said Benjamin Glaser, a featured editor for the website dealsnews.com, to the New York Daily News.

Online sales are also likely a factor.  The trade group’s survey said 184 million people would shop this year on Cyber Monday. Shoppers are also projected to spend more this year online with an average budget of $805 per person, the survey said.

While many of the big box retail stores plan to open on Thanksgiving Day, the outdoor company REI is taking the opposite approach. All of the company’s 143 stores will remain shuttered from Wednesday night to Saturday, while REI is pushing its message online with the hashtag @OptOutside.

Apple, TJ Maxx, Pier 1 Imports, and Barnes & Noble will also be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Kathy Welch, an executive with a company that runs two malls in New York City, said businesses are putting more resources into Black Friday itself, which remains the most profitable shopping day of the year for retailers.

“For this Black Friday stores are trying to return the excitement to the actual day and make it special again because it got so lost,” she said. “But at the same time, the reality is that customers are shopping way earlier than they used to and are looking for bargains right away.” 

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