November 27, 2013

Staying closed for the holiday to stave off 'Black Friday creep'

Some retailers are taking a stand even if it costs them Thanksgiving sales.

By Kavita Kumar
St. Louis Post-dispatch

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Outdoors retailer Cabela’s is content to keep its stores closed on Thanksgiving to give its staff a day of rest. When its Hazelwood, Mo., store opens at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, it fills up with shoppers like Julie Hodges of Fenton, Mo.

Erik M. Lunsford/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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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.

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