Thanksgiving Creep — Smart Business Or Bad PR?
By Bob Johns, associate editor
Last year I wrote an article entitled Black November, about how retailers were rolling out holiday promotions earlier than ever. A lot of this was due to the fact that the retail industry was just beginning to recover from the recession, and companies were struggling to survive. Fast-forward a year, and the retail landscape has significantly improved. Consumer confidence has risen to a five year high, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, which has given retailers the confidence to keep from drastically discounting merchandise, and slashing margins in the process. Target, Kohl’s, Home Depot, Cabela’s, Staples, and many other retailers are posting significant earnings increases and profits.
This year, however, retailers have targeted Thanksgiving to release the (discount) hounds. The movement into Thanksgiving Day, Thanksgiving Creep, has gained immense momentum with Big Lots!, along with most dollar stores, open all day on Thanksgiving, while companies like Macy’s will wait until midnight. Other major retailers are opening throughout the day. This strategy may give retailers and edge in pre-holiday sales, what does it cost them in employee relations and PR?
Target is one of the most visible retailers to announce new Thanksgiving hours, starting at 9pm. Last year, Target opened at midnight, amidst large protests from employees. This year it is opening three hours earlier, and it is not sitting well with associates and their families. Change.org features a petition encouraging Target to “Take the high road and save Thanksgiving,” which calls for Target to at least give their employees Thanksgiving Day off. As of this writing, nearly 217,000 people, many of whom work for or have family who are employed by Target, have signed the petition. Many people are leaving comments like:
“I have worked at Target for six years and I really enjoy my job. Thanksgiving, though, is one of the three days us retail workers get off a year: a day most all of us spend with family we only get to see on that day. I have no problem with Black Friday. I thought it was interesting the first year I worked the 4am opening. Last year's opening at midnight was pushing it.”
“I am a recent transplant to California with my boyfriend. I don't have any family out here and having to work on Black Friday prevents me from going home to the east coast to see my family…having Thanksgiving off really does give me that one day to relax and visit family I otherwise have no time to see.”
“I worked for Target when I was younger, and I had always been proud of being employed there. Target has always been a socially responsible corporation and I felt appreciated as an employee. I find it extremely disappointing that the company is allowing their competition to dictate their behavior in this instance. Take a stand, Target! This is your chance to become a leader in the movement. I think that both your employees and your customers would respond to this strategy.”
Walmart is facing a similar petition with comments like:
“I most strongly urge you to NOT open on Thanksgiving. This is a day for families and friends to be together.”
“Thanksgiving is a day to spend with family and friends, not going to work. It's hard enough on essential employees like doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, etc. Let's keep Thanksgiving a family holiday for as many people as possible.”
These are just a few examples of retail employees resisting this Thanksgiving Creep. It has created some PR issues with Target and Walmart, among others, but by and large it has all fallen on deaf ears. The retail industry has a difficult enough time keeping employees, often losing good ones out to jobs with better hours, pay, and benefits. Companies that want to show employees they value people over money may want to consider the benefits of stepping forward and refusing the Thanksgiving Day opening. Associates will be happier, translating into better customer service, and the company becomes the good guy. The PR gains may help in the long run, and in the short run, the company can still promote, “Take Thanksgiving off to be with your family, and come spend Friday with our family!” to the customer and promote the fantastic deals they can get on Black Friday.