Do Thanksgiving openings cheapen brands?

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"The First Thanksgiving," by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (1915).
"The First Thanksgiving," by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (1915).

How consumers interpret the retailers' decision to shutter on Thanksgiving or open for business depends upon their values. Those values reflect on the brands

Last week, a friend of mine shared a Facebook post, reminding folks of the stores from Costco to Nordstrom that will not be opening on Thanksgiving. The post read, "If I’m shopping someone is working, and not spending time with their family."

This year, we see a growing number of stores – from JC Penney to Macy’s opening to welcome shoppers as early as 5 p.m. on Turkey Day, a national holiday. Target, which started opening on Thanksgiving in 2012, is opening two hours earlier than last year.

While I see growing numbers opposing what they call the Black Friday creep (holiday sales starting on Thanksgiving), more shoppers are shopping.

How consumers interpret the decision to shutter on Thanksgiving or open for business depends upon their values. Those values reflect on the brands.

Many that are opening on Thanksgiving such as Target are showcasing their values and convenience. Those who are closing for the day such as Lowe’s and Home Depot are emphasizing their focus on family values and their employees.

The truth is, an increasing number of people are deciding to hit the stores on Thanksgiving. According to the National Retail Federation an increasing number of people have decided to shop on Thanksgiving Day itself.

According to their Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping report, 44.8 million consumers shopped on Thanksgiving Day 2013. That’s up 27 percent from 2012.

These brands are answering the call of their shoppers, particularly millennials, of which 43 percent shopped on Thanksgiving Day last year. That was up from 36 percent in 2012.

There is a caveat that business choices such as these that eat into the Thanksgiving holiday can erode brand perception among consumers and employees.

While some employees may look forward to extra holiday pay, Target team member Casey St. Clair’s petition to save Thanksgiving in 2012 from becoming a shopping day garnered more than 300,000 supporters.  In 2013, Target team member Patricia Stumpff’s petition on Change.org, which asked the company to change its Thanksgiving opening earned more than 200,000 online signatures.

And both efforts earned a tremendous amount of exposure from CNN to Huffington Post about employee frustrations.

For folks who work in retail (and I have been one of them) in Christmas shopping seasons past, Thanksgiving was the last bit of respite before the rush.

Perhaps some of the backlash is because in Christmas shopping seasons past, Black Friday was a retail holiday unto itself. It was an opportunity, when customers all drummed up from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, were ready to spend some of that joy on gift shopping.

Now that some retailers want to get the holiday shopping season started as soon as the turkey is on the table, it’s up to consumers to decide whether they want to partake. 

Kara Richardson Whitely is the marketing coordinator for independent global branding consultancy Monaco Lange.

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