Thanks­giv­ing Day shop­ping prob­a­bly here to stay

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Anne D’Innocenzio AP Re­tail Writer

Thanks­giv­ing Day shop­ping — a de­light to some, an anath­ema to oth­ers — isn’t go­ing away, but some stores are 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, J.C. Pen­ney, and Macy’s, are stick­ing with what they want to be a new tra­di­tion, kick­ing off the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son on Thanks­giv­ing Day.

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing the Mall of Amer­ica, 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 may 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 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 J.C. Pen­ney 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, Ten­nessee-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.

In re­al­ity, an­a­lysts say, it’s all about steal­ing share in a mar­ket that isn’t grow­ing that much.

For de­part­ment stores, the com­pe­ti­tion is fierce. Last year, J.C. Pen­ney 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. Pen­ney 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, the na­tion’s largest con­sumer elec­tron­ics chain, 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. But 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 for that 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.

CBL’s Le­bovitz says when he sur­veyed stores in the com­pany’s malls this year be­fore de­cid­ing to close, the re­ac­tion was “over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive,” par­tic­u­larly with the spe­cialty stores. The big an­chors plan to stay open. Last year, the re­ac­tion was dif­fer­ent. Most of the spe­cialty stores wanted to be open.

“They didn’t have enough data” to make the de­ci­sion,” he said.

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 that 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.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Shop­pers carry bags as they cross a pedes­trian walk­way near Macy’s in Her­ald Square in New York last Novem­ber.

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