By Vlad Vidaeff
While the history behind how Thanksgiving came to be (cue the mistreatment of Native Americans) is controversial, the holiday itself has come to represent many wholesome values today. To many Americans, Thanksgiving is a day off from work and an opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family while enjoying a home-cooked feast. For many years, Thanksgiving has also been the most important shopping weekend for the retail industry. Black Friday is the day when many retailers have traditionally offered deep discounts on hot items. However, things have changed with the growing impact of the Internet and the rise of ecommerce. Online retailers, with Amazon being the most prominent, developed Cyber Monday to serve as the day when consumers can capitalize on huge savings the Monday before Thanksgiving. As a result, many big-box retailers have had their sales drop as some consumers have shifted to making their purchases solely online. To fight back, in recent years, many large retailers have started opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day. Is this what we really want as a society?
This trend is nothing new—in fact, it has a name: the ‘Black Friday creep.’ A CNN article from 2012 touched on the controversy surrounding this issue. For people working in the retail industry, this means missing Thanksgiving with the family completely or having it be a rushed affair. Supporters of this trend have noted that Memorial Day and Labor Day used to be days of rest as well. As time goes on, society will become accustomed to these changes. This statement misses the point, as Thanksgiving is a more prominent holiday to most people compared to Memorial Day and Labor Day. Thanksgiving is a holiday where students have time off from school to return home for a couple days and spend time with family. It’s an extended holiday for many that is different in nature than Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Let’s look at the numbers to gain a perspective on how important this weekend is to retailers. This year, a survey conducted by Rowan University predicts that Black Friday sales will be $8.8 billion, down 3.2% compared to last year. However, Thanksgiving Day sales are predicted to grow to $3.8 billion, an 18.8% increase compared to 2014. When looking at holiday shopping trends last year, it’s interesting to note that 48% of shoppers said they did a majority of their shopping on or before Cyber Monday. This is up from 40% in 2013. Some consumers are selectively capitalizing on the best deals on Cyber Monday and the best deals on Black Friday with some of the most sought-after categories including electronics, toys, jewelry, and apparel. Other consumers are scrapping the madness of the in-store experience entirely to focus on the convenience of purchasing items online and not worrying about being trampled by frantic consumers. This is part of the reason why big-box retailers are feeling the pressure. Meanwhile, online retailers are continuing their push to gain a larger percentage of customer dollars on this significant weekend.
Amazon will be kicking things off before Cyber Monday this year. The leading online retailer will be launching a ‘Black Friday Deals store.’ You read that right. A ‘store’ exclusively focused on Cyber Monday/Black Friday deals before these days take place to get you excited about the actual days. While big-box retailers may see Amazon’s announcement as a pressure tactic, it really shows how much of an impact ecommerce is having on traditional retail strategy. However, not everyone is falling into the fold.
Nordstrom has decided to NOT open its stores on Thanksgiving Day. The company believes that its loyal customers will wait until Black Friday to make their purchases. As Nordstrom believes that Thanksgiving is a holiday that should be spent with family, it is a gamble that it is willing to make. I think this is a move that will resonate with customers, particularly millennials and younger generations. In an era of corporate social responsibility, some consumers expect more from a brand than just good prices and a quality product. We applaud companies that give back to the community and treat their employees well. Companies such as Costco and Trader Joe’s ring a bell. On the flip side, companies that treat their employees poorly or make controversial political/social statements have been boycotted by some consumers i.e. Wal-Mart and Chick-fil-a. As we are a country built on capitalism, it’s refreshing to take a step back and think about what is truly important in life. Nordstrom and other retailers who have made similar efforts should be applauded for potentially losing sales but standing firm for values they hold paramount.