The mid-November cold snap started the holiday rush at REI a bit early this year.
But Romi Conaboy, a sales manager at the South Side sporting goods retailer, can look forward to one day when she’ll have a break.
“I love not working on Thanksgiving,” Conaboy said. “It’s a time to be quiet and be around each other at a meal.”
Conaboy can count herself among the fortunate few retail workers who will have Thanksgiving off this year. Competition online and several years of flat holiday sales have caused stores to do everything they can to extend the holiday shopping season. That has meant pushing Black Friday into Thursday, as national retailers such as Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Best Buy open their doors before many Americans finish eating their turkey.
This year, 25.6 million Americans are expected to shop on Thanksgiving Day, amounting to 18.3 percent of all shoppers who are expected to turn out for the weekend deals, according to the National Retail Federation.
But some big retailers have held the line, refusing to call their employees into work.
Some of the nation’s biggest retailers — Costco, T.J. Maxx, Home Depot, GameStop, Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble — are staying closed on Thanksgiving.
Many have played up their decisions on social media and in the press, saying that they put greater importance on allowing employees’ to be with their families. In so doing, they are hoping to turn short-term losses into longer term gain through building goodwill with customers who have those values, said Kevin Paul Scott, co-founder of ADDO Worldwide, an Atlanta-based branding consultant.
“I think the long-term play is that companies that represent shared values with their consumers have the opportunity to build long-term brand loyalty that will pay off this year and in future years,” he said.
Not all of them are sacrificing sales by staying closed.
Hardware and home furnishings are not major holiday gift items, which takes the pressure off retailers such as Home Depot or Crate & Barrel to capture Thanksgiving sales. The Crate & Barrel store at Ross Park Mall has even shrunk its Black Friday hours and will open an hour later and close an hour sooner than last year.
“I don’t see us in the near future embracing business hours on Thanksgiving,” said Dan Duffy, the store’s general manager. “You’re not going to come in here and break the gates at 6:30 in the morning for a flat-screen television.”
Retailers that offer unique products are under less competitive pressure to open on Thanksgiving because customers intent on buying those things don’t have the option to get them elsewhere. But those retailers still risk losing sales, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y.
Shoppers are not waiting until Friday, or even Thursday, to buy gifts. A quarter of shoppers surveyed by financial consulting firm Deloitte said they do the majority of holiday shopping by early November.
“If you are an exclusive branded retailer, you will feel the pain less by not opening on Thanksgiving. However, you still risk missing out on some of the early dollars,” Cohen said. “They do take a risk that much of the money that would be spent on Black Friday week will be used up.”
That didn’t worry Greg Gold, owner of Ace Miller Hardware in Bethel Park and McMurray.
Both of his stores will be closed on Thanksgiving. He doesn’t sell a lot of door-buster items, but the weekend is still one of his busiest of the year. Christmas decorations are popular and, with the McMurray store close to a Kmart that will be open, he will likely miss out on some customers.
Still, in 24 years, Gold said that he has never had a customer complain that his stores were closed on Thanksgiving.
“It’s an important holiday,” Gold said. “It really is important for our associates and team members to be with their families.”
Kevin Gaughan of Bethel Park said he had no intention to shop on Thanksgiving and was pleased to hear that Ace Miller Hardware would be closed.
“That’s why I like to shop here,” Gaughn said.“They’re more traditional. It’s like you belong in the neighborhood. You think about their family values.”
The trend toward Thanksgiving openings may even disappear in the next few years. As more people shop online and Black Friday gets stretched into a weeklong event, opening on Thanksgiving will hold less importance as a kickoff to holiday retail, Cohen said.
At REI, the season seemed to have begun a week earlier as frigid temperatures drove purchases for winter sports gear.
“It’s already started,” store manager Ron Rodriguez said. “We’ve already seen a big jump with the cold weather.”
Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.