When it came to the controversy over the annual “how early is too early?” Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday debate, for too long it felt like we were stuck in the same reactionary cycle year after year.
In 2016, that cycle might finally be broken.
Here’s how it went in years past:
First, a major national retailer would announce its new, earliest-of-the season-operating hours for Thanksgiving Day. The most extreme case may have been back in 2013, when Kmart pushed the envelope with a 6 a.m. start to its holiday sales.
Then, the public would be split into two camps: those who were outraged at the indifference toward holiday traditions and old-fashioned family time and those who would happily give up their share of the turkey to queue up for hours for a chance at a discounted Blu-Ray player.
Op-eds would be written. Sensational TV news stories would be reported. Still, retailers continued bumping their hours and offering bigger and better sales, and shoppers continued lining up for the savings.
The year of that pre-dawn Kmart sales promotion, 2013, the National Retail Federation’s count saw 44.8 million shoppers hit stores on Turkey Day. But in 2014 that number started to drop, as 43.1 million people reportedly visited stores on Thanksgiving Day.
By the time the dust settled in 2015, it was clear that the year before was less an aberration and more the start of a downward trend. Almost 10 million fewer shoppers filled stores on Thanksgiving than the year before as the final tally counted 34.6 million people.
This year, it appears that the anti-Thanksgiving Day shopping camp is gaining even more ground. According to a Morning Consult survey, nearly six in 10 consumers oppose stores opening on Thanksgiving.
More tellingly for retailers, the public sentiment is actually more positive for stores that actively distance themselves from the early promotions by closing on Thanksgiving Day and delaying the Black Friday extravaganza, as 48 percent of survey respondents were more likely to visit those which scaled back.
Some businesses are listening. REI famously began its #OptOutside campaign last year, electing to close on Thanksgiving and and Black Friday and encouraging its employees and customers alike to spend the day outdoors.
This year, even more companies are loudly promoting their plans to abstain from Turkey Day sales. The Mall of America will be closed, along with 73 of 89 CBL & Associates-owned malls and a slew of other stores. BFAds.net, a holiday shopping tracker, has compiled a running tally of national retailers sitting out Thanksgiving Day. Here’s the list, as of Nov. 10.
AT&T (Customer Service + Select Retail Locations)
Barnes & Noble
Bed Bath & Beyond (Select Locations)
BJ’s Wholesale Club
Blain’s Farm & Fleet
Christmas Tree Shops (Select Locations)
Crate and Barrel
Half Price Books
Mall of America (Subject to Individual Store Changes)
Mills Fleet Farm
Office Max / Office Depot
P.C. Richard & Son
Pier 1 Imports
Sierra Trading Post
The Container Store
While the sentiment of closing on Thanksgiving to give employees and shoppers both an incentive to stay home with the family might feel warm and fuzzy, don’t be fooled: there’s still money being made.
Even as in-store traffic has decreased, revenue during the five-day Thanksgiving weekend has continued to rise from online shopping. Last year, online sales accounted for a record $11.1 billion, exceeding projections according to a CNBC report, and this year even more incentives to start early online are on the table, including Walmart’s first ever Thanksgiving Day online sales and Amazon’s near two-month-long holiday sales extravaganza.
After last year’s online success and these promotions, it’s not out of the question to think that 2016’s projected online sales growth, which Visa sets at 18 percent, might be on the conservative side.
The phenomenon of in-store Thanksgiving Day specials might be coming to a close according to the data, but Turkey Day’s position as the start of the holiday shopping season has never been more secure. Instead of piling into the car to fight the crowds right after dinner, families will just fight each other for the device with the fastest Wi-Fi connection instead.