Thanksgiving Day shopping is here to stay

Retailers tweak hours but will be open to round of festivities

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, file photo, cousins Stacy Levine, left, and Melissa Bragg shop at a Toys R Us store in Atlanta on Black Friday. Serious deal-seekers are already planning their Thanksgiving weekend shopping. Experts believe that once again Thanksgiving will offer better deals than on the day afterward, and there are signs that many of the offers will look similar to those in 2015. Amid the clutter of deals clamoring for attention, smart and careful shoppers can come out ahead. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

Betty Inskeep has been following the same Thanksgiving Day routine for years – visiting family, enjoying dinner with relatives and watching football.

And, the Hubbard Township woman said, she has no plans to “break with tradition now” by spending her holiday time shopping.

“I believe Thanksgiving is a day for families to be together,” she said.

Inskeep, like other area consumers, believes there’s plenty of time for shopping before or after Thanksgiving. But others, like Michael Timms of Austintown, insist there is nothing wrong with rounding off the day’s festivities by kicking off the holiday shopping season on the day some now refer to as Brown Thursday.

“Actually, you can eat, drink and be merry with your family, friends or both and then spend some quality time together buying presents or strolling through the mall,” Timms said.

It appears, many analysts have said, that Thanksgiving Day shopping — a delight to some, an anathema to others — is here to stay, regardless of how some consumers view it.

A 2015 National Retail Federation survey showed that 34.6 million, or 34 percent, consumers said they shopped on Thanksgiving Day last year, while 72.8 percent, or 74.2 million, said they shopped on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the weekend, and 46.8 million, or 45.9 percent, said they shopped the Saturday after Black Friday.

Still, some stores have started rethinking their strategies on whether it makes sense to be open on the holiday itself.

Many of the nation’s major mall operators and the big retailers that anchor them, such as Toys R Us, JCPenney and Macy’s, are sticking with what they want to be a new tradition, kicking off the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving Day.

For example, Eastwood Mall in Niles and Southern Park Mall in Boardman will each kick off the holiday shopping season at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving day, close at 1 a.m. and reopen on Black Friday at 6 a.m.

“For the most part, we’ve encountered a large percentage of consumers anxious to get out there and shop on Thanksgiving night,” said Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co., which owns the local mall. “Certainly there are still many other people who have no interest in interrupting their Thanksgiving routine, and that’s fine. Many of them prefer to hit the stores at the crack of dawn on Black Friday. That’s why the mall will close in the overnight hours and re-open at 6 a.m. on Friday.”

Lori Reda, Southern Park Mall’s marketing director, said the extended holiday hours are being provided to “meet shopper demand.”

She added that a variety of mall happenings provide opportunities for “friends and family to shop, dine and spend time together.”

Others, including the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the nation’s largest shopping mall, are closing for Thanksgiving this year after being open for the past several years. Some retailers that are closing cite respect for the holiday, but in truth, the cost of being open might be more than the return.

“Once you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s hard,” said Stephen D. Lebovitz, president and CEO of CBL & Associates Properties, a mall operator with several shopping facilities in western Pennsylvania that is closing 72 of its malls for the day. “More retailers are coming to their senses and realizing it is a family holiday and from a business point of view, it’s not making much business sense.”

Stores being open on Thanksgiving started in earnest in 2011 and took a punch out of sales on Black Friday, which had usually launched the shopping season. Many places like Macy’s, Target and JCPenney have been opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving as they try to outdo others to get first dibs on customers who could easily buy online. But the move has been controversial, as many workers have voiced complaints that stores are putting profits over workers’ time to be with their families.

Some 89 of the 145 properties that Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL owns or has interest in opened at 6 p.m. on the holiday last year. While dozens of those will be closed this year, the department stores, movie theaters, restaurants and retailers with exterior entrances have the option to open on Thanksgiving. Other retailers including Office Depot and consumer electronics chain hhgregg Inc. plan to be closed after being open for the past several years.

Plenty of retailers, particularly high-end stores like Nordstrom or those like T.J. Maxx that offer discounts every day, never opened on Thanksgiving and have collected goodwill because of that.

Eau Claire, Wis.-based Menards, which has a local store on Elm Road in Bazetta, recently announced that as a family-owned business, it will continue its tradition of remaining closed on Thanksgiving for families.

Last year, JCPenney opened at 3 p.m. for the first time, three hours earlier than its rivals Kohl’s and Macy’s. That may have hurt Macy’s, which had a weak holiday season and aims to reverse a sales slump. This year, Macy’s decided to open an hour earlier at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. JCPenney is sticking to 3 p.m., while Kohl’s will be opening again at 6 p.m. Most Sears stores will be open on Thanksgiving for the fourth year in a row, starting at 6 p.m. — the same as a year ago.

Best Buy suffered over Thanksgiving weekend in 2012 because it didn’t open until midnight, while stores like Wal-Mart and Target began their sales earlier in the evening. Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy have not announced their plans for this Thanksgiving weekend; however, all indications are they’ll start the doorbuster sales on the holiday.

For many big retailers, covering expenses like paying employees holiday pay is not that costly, said Joel Bines, a managing director at retail consulting group AlixPartners. But for small stores or those with specialized merchandise, it may make more sense to close.

AlixPartners also found some retailers who did open on Thanksgiving were simply pulling Friday sales a day earlier and their profit margins took a hit. Bob Riesbeck, president and CEO of hhgregg, says business on Thanksgiving actually declined over the previous two years when it opened at 4 p.m.

Andy Mantis, executive vice president of NPD Group Checkout Tracking, says stores should open on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday to maximize their sales. The company, which analyzes receipt data to understand consumer behavior, found the share of buyers who shopped on both days declined, while the number who shopped only on Thanksgiving Day or on Black Friday increased.

Mantis believes specialty retailers, especially those near big stores like Macy’s that are open, should think again about whether to stay closed.

“It is a heavy promotion time,” Mantis said. “People are buying, and they’re not always willing to go to multiple stores.”

Associated Press writer Anne D’Innocenzio contributed to this report.