By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Is Black Friday giving way to Black Thursday?
Target and Sears are joining Wal-Mart and Kmart stores in throwing open their doors to deal-hungry shoppers on Thanksgiving Day, instead of waiting until the day after the holiday. Sears is opening at 8 p.m. Target will open at 9 p.m. In the past, the stores had opened before dawn on Black Friday.
Northpark Mall is not opening on Thanksgiving Day, but it inched a little closer this year by deciding to open at midnight Thursday instead of early Friday morning. More than half of the mall’s 100 or so retailers will observe the new hours.
But are retailers risking serious public relations damage by being open on Thanksgiving Day? Are the employees of those retailers being unfairly asked to forgo participation in a holiday that is steeped in family tradition?
Eric Harris, chairman of the department of management and marketing in Pittsburg (Kan.) State University’s Kelce College of Business, said retailers risk a backlash that could ultimately damage their brands.
“I’ve talked to a couple of people about that today,” he said Monday. “Black Friday has crept into Thanksgiving, and that has affected the employees of those retailers and the families of the employees. People don’t want their family members working on Thanksgiving.”
Harris, who has written a textbook on consumer behavior, said: “Some people are pushing back against the whole Black Friday idea. It’s become consumer hysteria. That’s what I call it.”
In recent years, Black Friday shopping incidents have ranged from pushing and shoving to serious violence and armed robbery. People have been trampled to death in the rush to be among the first to get through a retailer’s doors to get a Black Friday special.
“In my book, I refer to it as Black and Blue Friday,” Harris said. “My concern is we’ve come to a point that people are willing to do anything to get a bargain.”
Keri Keckley, a Carl Junction resident, said she will not shop on Thanksgiving Day.
“These are small savings when you think of the peace of mind I would lose in the process,” she said. “It’s not like I haven’t tried it. We tried to make it a family tradition.
“We pulled into the Toys R Us parking lot at 11 p.m. last year before they opened at midnight. The line of people was around the front of the shopping center to Pier 1. When I saw that, I said, ‘Uh, no.”’
Harris said a Facebook page has been created for the Occupy Black Friday Movement. The group wants to clog up the stores and boycott them to impede the craziness of Black Friday.
“Black Friday has become a huge part of consumer culture,” he said. “It’s become a family tradition to go out on Black Friday. All of the negative events that have been associated with that day have made people stop and think about other ways of spending their time over this holiday weekend.”
How important is Black Friday to retailers? In some cases, sales from the holiday shopping season — the last two months of the year — can account for 40 percent or more of a store’s annual revenue.
Nearly one in four Americans, or 86 million people, hit the stores on Black Friday last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
“It’s about gaining market share,” Harris said. “When a store opens on Thanksgiving, they want to become the first to the punch.”
The managers of the Sears and Target stores in Joplin say they are opening late on Thanksgiving Day to give families an opportunity to enjoy their holiday traditions and then shop if that’s what they want to do. Employees who work on the holiday get extra pay, and some volunteer for the work.
But a Target employee in California has started an online petition at Change.org, asking the retail giant to save Thanksgiving from Black Friday creep. The petition had reached 186,000 signatures at last count. A Target spokeswoman, Molly Snyder, said the store’s opening times were “carefully evaluated with our guests, team and the business in mind.”
“It gives everybody time to enjoy their Thanksgiving,” said Tina Montgomery, manager of the Sears store in Joplin. “They can then spend some of their energy shopping.
“I have heard nothing negative about our opening on Thanksgiving. I have heard a lot of people say they will be coming that evening to get some of their shopping over with.”
Last year, Northpark Mall opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.
“There are some select stores — more than 50 of them — that will open at midnight,” said Gregory Biastock, manager of the mall. “This is a voluntary thing on the part of those stores.”
It’s also a reaction to earlier openings last year that were successful, he said, noting that a trend toward earlier openings has been under way for some time.
“Most people seem satisfied with the midnight opening,” he said. “They think we are holding the line and showing respect for those viewpoints (of those who are opposed to holiday shopping on Thanksgiving). That may change in the future, but we’re holding this year with the midnight openings.”
THE NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION, the nation’s largest retail trade group, said it expects sales during the winter holiday shopping period in November and December to rise 4.1 percent this year, to $586.1 billion. Actual holiday sales in 2011 grew by 5.6 percent.