Retailers take stand against early Black Friday

In the past few years, Black Friday shopping sales have crept into Thanksgiving Day as stores try to gain an advantage over their competitors at the start of the holiday shopping season. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Stephen Greenhouse of the New York Times about how the practice of opening stores on Thanksgiving is getting backlash within the business community.

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    In the past few years, Black Friday shopping sales have crept right into Thanksgiving Day, as stores try to gain an advantage over their competitors at the start of the holiday shopping season.

    But now, there is backlash against that practice within the business community. Stephen Greenhouse of "The New York Times" wrote about this recently. I spoke with him earlier.


    So, has it finally gotten too far that people are essentially bringing their staffs in just to try to keep the doors open on Thanksgiving Day?


    You know, last year, all the news is that more and more stores were opening on Thanksgiving, in theory, to please consumers, and then there's such a crush on Black Friday. They were competing to move things up to Thursday.

    Now, there's a backlash, as you say, Hari, where a lot of retailers see that a lot of consumers don't like the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving, and they think that, you know, workers should have the day off. So, some prominent retailers — Costco, Marshall, GameStop — have all kind of not just announced but they're boasting, "We're going to remain closed on Thanksgiving. It shows that we care about our workers. It shows that we care about the holiday. It shows we care about their families."

    And there's really an interesting tug-of-war now about whether to stay open to please consumers or stay closed kind of to please workers and it's, I think, very good public relation to remain closed.


    So, I know that Walmart kind of pushed back and said, "Look, we're almost like airports and gas station, and we've been open on Thanksgiving for 20 years."


    So, you know, on one hand, you know, Walmart can say, we're a supermarket, and a lot of supermarkets are open Thanksgiving morning because in case you the need the cranberries or cranberry sauce, or God forbid you forgot a turkey.

    But on the other hand, you know, the other part of the Walmart is the — you know, very competitive retailer that moved Black Friday into Thursday the way many other retailers have, and that meant it needed a lot more workers. That meant kind of pressured — invite a lot of consumers to — you know, get up from their Thanksgiving table at 4:00 p.m. and rush over to Walmart and wait in line for two hours to shop. And, you know, Walmart has in ways seen that's a problem. You know, it's going to remain open on Thanksgiving.

    But it saw that so many consumers are unhappy about having to wait an hour or two or three hours online on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, for Black Friday sales, it says Black Friday is magically going to become a five-day affair, where the Black Friday sales will be spread. And that might mean — you know, fewer people will be needed to work on Thanksgiving Day.


    OK. So, I mean, this is also a big, big moment that starts the season. And for retailers, this last stretch of the year is incredibly important to their bottom line, right?


    Absolutely. You know, they called it Black Friday because in theory, they've been running in the red all year long and, finally, on Black Friday, they're making money.

    I had this interesting interview, Hari, with the head PR guy for Nordstrom, and he said, we used to be closed on July 4th, we used to be closed on New Year's Day, but our consumers pushed us to open those days. So, now, we're open in New Year's Day and July 4th. But he said, but so far, thus far, our consumers and shoppers aren't pushing us to open on Thanksgiving, and if they do, then even we great, prestigious Nordstrom might do that as well.

    So, there really are a lot of conflicting pressures. A lot of workers really don't want to work that day. And a lot of consumers, you know, if they could get a good bargain that day, they're happy to go.

    But, you know, there was this poll done last year by the University of Connecticut where, you know — more than 90 percent of shoppers say they really don't love to go out running for Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day and just 7 percent said they're happy to. So — but maybe a lot of retailers are eager not to miss that 7 percent.


    All right. Steven Greenhouse of "The New York Times" joining us from Chicago, thanks so much.


    Thanks. Always nice to be here, Hari.

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