Some retailers take a stand against ‘Black Friday creep’ by staying closed on Thanksgiving even if it costs them.
Jim von Maur knows he may lose out on some business by not opening on Thanksgiving Day.
But he doesn’t care.
“We think it’s well worth it to miss out on those sales so sales associates can spend time with their families,” said the president of the Iowa-based chain of 29 Von Maur department stores.
What does he think about the other retailers who are opening on Thanksgiving?
“It’s too bad,” he said. “I think it will hurt employee morale, and I don’t think they’ll get that much more business. … If you run an exciting store, you don’t have to do all of these games and gimmicks to get people through your doors.”
Many big-box and department stores have generated buzz for their decisions to open earlier than ever this year on Thanksgiving Day, with a number of stores opening at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Thirty-three million shoppers are expected to hit those sales that night. But the moved-up openings haven’t come without complaints from shoppers and workers about the sales intruding on their holiday.
Von Maur is one of an increasingly vocal group of renegade retailers taking a stand against Black Friday creep. Resisting competitive pressures to open on Thanksgiving, they are actually starting their Black Friday sales on Friday.
It should be noted, though, that Von Maur doesn’t offer any door-buster deals or have other special Black Friday sales. So it won’t open in the pre-dawn hours on Black Friday. It will open just one hour earlier than normal, at 9 a.m.
Some of the other stores on the not-on-Thanksgiving list include Costco, Cabela’s and Nordstrom. Many of the stores on the list either don’t have big Black Friday sales or are a specialty retailer with a niche following.
Cabela’s, the Nebraska-based retailer that sells everything from camping gear to hunting rifles and ammunition, always draws hundreds of people outside its store at the St. Louis Outlet Mall for its 5 a.m. opening on Black Friday.
Wes Remmer, a Cabela’s spokesman, said the company wants to give its staff a rest on Thanksgiving. After all, they will need it to gear up for Black Friday, which is always a huge day for the company.
“We have really good turnouts on the Friday after Thanksgiving,” he said, noting that the first 600 people in line receive some sort of giveaway, from a gift card to binoculars to smokers. “It’s what makes Cabela’s really unique – we have that loyal customer base.”
Nordstrom doesn’t really have door-buster deals on Black Friday, but it does have some sales and promotions in its stores that day. It is a busy day for the store – but not its busiest, which would be first few days of its anniversary sale in July.
“Over the years, it’s been our approach to be closed on Thanksgiving,” said Colin Johnson, a Nordstrom spokesman. “One of the nice things about this is it makes the Friday after pretty exciting because that’s when we unveil our holiday trim.”
Indeed, the company often gets kudos from the “respect the turkey” crowd for not putting up its holiday decorations until the day after Thanksgiving, unlike others that have had Christmas decorations up in stores since Halloween.
“We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,” Nordstrom often says on signs placed in its stores.
Still, the Friday unveiling of holiday trim means that some Nordstrom employees will work through the night to set up the store displays, Johnson noted.
For those Nordstrom customers who want to shop on Thanksgiving, Johnson said they can do so online and pick up their items in the store or take advantage of free shipping.
“We’re always going to be focused on the needs of our customers rather than on what the competition is doing,” Johnson said.
Some marketing experts have noted that retailers who take a stance against opening on Thanksgiving may benefit from some positive PR buzz. But will it pay off for them in the end?
Not likely, says Jim Fisher, a marketing professor at St. Louis University. He said the retailers that aren’t opening on Thanksgiving Day do so at their own peril.
“It’s almost a matter of math,” he said. “If you’re open more hours, you’re more likely to do more sales.”
Of course, a cost-benefit analysis may need to be done. Stores have to be able to draw a big enough crowd, so their merchandise and promotions have to be enticing to open on Thanksgiving. And they have to be able to staff the stores on the holiday.
“But, boy, I think it’s a great opportunity for most retailers,” Fisher said. “I’d think twice before I’d say no.”
Fisher conceded some exceptions to that rule.
For example, if a retailer has an isolated location not close to a lot of other stores, then it might not be worth it. Another exception: if it’s a specialty retailer with a unique niche or an especially loyal following. Cabela’s would fall into that category.
Higher-end retailers such as Nordstrom may also be protected somewhat from having to respond in kind to the competitive pressures to open on Thanksgiving, because its customer base is not just focused on the lowest price.
On the plus side, Fisher noted that those retailers who aren’t opening on Thanksgiving are probably creating some goodwill among their own employees who will not be forced to work on the holiday.
Jim von Maur recounted an anecdote to illustrate that. A manager at a Von Maur store in the Chicago area recently read aloud a news article to other store employees about the department store’s stand against opening on Thanksgiving.
“There was a standing ovation,” he said.