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"Black Thanksgiving" Is A Lousy Idea

11/10/2011 03:39:00 PM

“Midnight is the new 5 a.m.,” said Consumer Electronics Association’s Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and research director, and Steve Koenig, industry analysis director, during their 2012 holiday season presentation at the International CES Press Preview in New York on Tuesday, referring to the new Black Friday trend at retail.

Actually, if they waited a day or two, they could have said, “10 p.m. is the new 5 a.m.” based on Walmart’s announcement to open at that time. Some have called the practice “Black Thanksgiving.”

The reasoning behind Walmart’s move: “Our customers told us they would rather stay up late to shop than get up early, so we’re going to hold special events on Thanksgiving and Black Friday,” according to Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart U.S.’s chief merchandising officer.

Sure.

Walmart is doing it for competitive reasons. Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy, hhgregg and Macy’s have all decided to open at midnight or earlier for Black Friday sales for the first time. Sears and Kmart have done it for a few years. And they are also concerned about those consumers who are at their computers on Thanksgiving night shopping online.

Yes, the economy is lousy, retail sales are less than robust and everyone needs to be competitive, but when is when is enough … enough?

I think this is a lousy idea. I’m all for commerce, but can there be one day in the year — just one day — where commerce does not rule?

I remember someone saying that Thanksgiving is that one holiday that is non-denominational, where you express thanks — to whichever God you pray to or to family and friends that you are sharing the day with — for the blessings in our lives.

The people that must work that day are involved in occupations that concern our safety and well-being: the armed services, police, firemen, doctors and nurses at hospitals.

Sorry, but I don’t think store managers and retail clerks fall into that category, no matter how bad the bottom lines of their stores are.

One of the reasons “Black Thanksgiving” is a lousy idea is that all these retail workers will now completely lose that day. Having to get to work by 5 a.m. was no bargain either, but they had some semblance of a Thanksgiving, one would hope. Not if your store is opening at 10 p.m. or midnight.

And how many would like to at least get a later shift on Friday, but are being strong-armed by management to get to work by the time the store opens or lose their job? Probably more than we care to know about.

I’d love to read a study from the National Retail Federation or someone to let us know how much of a difference it was to have consumers shop at 10 p.m. or midnight at stores around the country vs. 5 a.m. or later on Friday. Based on the economy, they might just be seeing the same number of customers they would have seen at 5 a.m., except they have more costs in opening stores and cutting prices deeper to get more traffic through their doors.

In my limited retail career selling men’s clothes at a local store when I was in college, my boss decided to open on the last two Sundays before Christmas one year during a recession. It smelled of desperation. The result? Saturday traffic was split between the two weekend days with no real sales gains.

Realistically, as our senior editor Alan Wolf mentioned to me today, “This year will be another Black November,” with all the promos throughout the month.

So, from a business standpoint, what’s so special about making Thanksgiving “Black Thanksgiving” when retailers are offering deals every day this month?

P.C. Richard & Son in the New York metropolitan area runs every year a Thanksgiving Day “thank you” ad to its employees and customers thanking them for their success and jabbing other retailers that are open on the holiday.

It looks like we will see how successful “Black Thanksgiving” will be in a couple of weeks.

If P.C. Richard & Son decides to open on Thanksgiving night next year, then I know it is a success.

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