Big Box of tur­keys Hun­gry re­tail­ers crash tra­di­tional Thanks­giv­ing din­ner

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA BILLUPS

Je a n n e Mad­dox-Columna said she was not about to let some greedy re­tail­ers step on her “Wal­tons moment” this Thanks­giv­ing.

The mother of six from Ran­cho Santa Mar­garita, Calif., and her four daugh­ters have a fam­ily tra­di­tion of hit­ting the stores and search­ing out the “door-buster deals” in the dawn hours of Black Fri­day, a rush of re­tail ther­apy af­ter the quiet of a Thanks­giv­ing cel­e­brated at home. But across the na­tion, big-box re­tail­ers such as Sears, Tar­get and Kmart were seek­ing to get a jump on the Christ­mas sea­son by open­ing their doors in the early evening to Thanks­giv­ing Day shop­pers in an ef­fort dubbed by some as Gray Thurs­day.

The com­pa­nies say they are sim­ply ac­com­mo­dat­ing the de­sires ex­pressed by many of their pa­trons, but the “Black Fri­day creep” has gen­er­ated sur­pris­ing back­lash from shop­pers, store em­ploy­ees, in­vestors and so­cial crit­ics who warn about the im­pact the move would have on the one Amer­i­can hol­i­day that has largely re­sisted com­mer­cial on­slaughts.

“It’s one of the few days out of the year that I get to really en­joy be­ing home with all of my kids, play­ing board games, watch­ing foot­ball and, of course, eat­ing,” said Mrs. Mad­dox-Columna. “They are not spoil­ing my Wal­tons moment.”

“It’s greedy, dis­re­spect­ful of fam­ily and not hon­or­ing the hol­i­day,” she said.

Although there are some lo­cal vari­a­tions, Sears, which last year held out un­til 4 a.m. Fri­day, opened most of its stores on Thanks­giv­ing Day at 8 p.m., as did Toys R Us. Tar­get, which opened at mid­night Fri­day a year ago, moved up its open­ing time to 9 p.m. Kmart, now a di­vi­sion of Sears, planned to be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thurs­day, then re­open at 8 p.m. for the kick­off of its Black Fri­day. Al­to­gether, at least 20 lead­ing re­tail chains said they would open for at least part of Thanks­giv­ing Day.

Tar­get worker Casey St. Clair sent a let­ter to CEO Gregg Stein­hafel ask­ing him to stop the com­pany’s Thanks­giv­ing open­ing plan, and then took her gripe to the In­ter­net.

Ms. St. Clair, a six-year part­time Tar­get worker in Cal­i­for­nia, started an on­line pe­ti­tion at Change.org seek­ing to pres­sure the com­pany. As of mid-Novem­ber, more than 220,000 peo­ple had signed the plea.

Her on­line ef­fort di­rected at Tar­get struck a nerve. Since she posted the pe­ti­tion Nov. 16, 40 other on­line pe­ti­tions have been di­rected at stores such as Sears, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart, a con­sumer back­lash that some say is just the be­gin­ning.

“We would be bet­ter off as a peo­ple if all that non­sense just stopped,” said Ruth Bax­ter, a mid­dle school teacher from Friendswood, Texas, who laments the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the hol­i­day.

Tip­ping point

Ea­ger to lock in some early prof­its on the cru­cial part of the cal­en­dar, re­tail­ers have been mov­ing up open­ing times steadily on Black Fri­day, from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. to mid­night in re­cent years. Ron Magliocco, the global busi­ness di­rec­tor for shop­per mar­ket­ing at the ad­ver­tis­ing gi­ant JWT, said the ear­lier shop­ping times took off a few years back, “but the tip­ping point came about two years ago.”

Mr. Magliocco said he un­der­stood the re­tail­ers’ need to jump-start the hol­i­day sea­son given the tough econ­omy of the past few years, but added that he was per­son­ally sad­dened to see the creep.

“I fear this stretch­ing of Black Fri­day into Thurs­day is go­ing to be­come broader,” he said. “There’s a point when things get a lit­tle bit too far and, in my opin­ion as a mar­keter and a hu­man, that they are di­lut­ing the hol­i­day.”

The back­lash hasn’t been just emo­tional. John Har­ring­ton, pres­i­dent of a so­cially con­scious in­vest­ment firm in Napa, Calif., wrote di­rectly to Tar­get’s Mr. Stein­hafel to protest the Thanks­giv­ing open­ing. He point­edly noted that his clients own more than 16,600 shares of the Min­neapo­lis-based re­tailer.

“We were shocked to dis­cover that our com­pany plans to open Thurs­day at 9 p.m. on Thanks­giv­ing Day,” Mr. Har­ring­ton wrote. “This will in­evitably put our em­ploy­ees in a sit­u­a­tion where they must choose be­tween keep­ing their jobs or spend­ing qual­ity time with their fam­i­lies. … We urge you to re­con­sider the de­ci­sion to open on Thanks­giv­ing Day for ‘Black Fri­day’ and in­stead honor our em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies by giv­ing them back an im­por­tant na­tional hol­i­day.”

Mr. Magliocco said it is hard for one big re­tailer to re­sist when its chief ri­vals push the dead­line for­ward and grab the most ded­i­cated shop­pers.

“The hys­te­ria and the hype sort of builds on it­self,” he said. “There is in­cred­i­ble pres­sure on the part of re­tail­ers to make earn­ings and report strong hol­i­day sales. The ear­lier they can be­gin the sea­son, the bet­ter they are in po­si­tion of re­port­ing strong sales.”

The Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion found that 28.7 mil­lion peo­ple did Black Fri­day shop­ping on Thanks­giv­ing in 2011. In ad­di­tion, said Mr. Magliocco, com­bined sales were up nearly 7 per­cent.

“That’s a new high in the midst of an un­cer­tain econ­omy,” he said. “The guy whose idea it was to open first and open early will say that is one of the rea­sons.”

Wal-Mart re­ported that its sin­gle busiest shop­ping pe­riod last year was at 10 p.m. on Thanks­giv­ing, he said.

Back­lash

But the back­lash has been so no­tice­able, thanks in part to the power of on­line ac­tivism, that stores such as Tar­get have been forced to re­spond. The com­pany two weeks ago posted an open let­ter de­fend­ing its Thanks­giv­ing open­ing, along with tes­ti­mo­ni­als from com­pany em­ploy­ees and ex­ec­u­tives about the wis­dom of the move.

Tina Schiel, Tar­get ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for stores, said in the post­ing that the Thurs­day open­ing was widely dis­cussed with em­ploy­ees, many of whom, she said, greeted the idea en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

“We had so many team mem­bers who wanted to work on Thurs­day that hun­dreds of our stores are now keep­ing lists of vol­un­teers who want to work if shifts open up,” she wrote. Across the com­pany, only one-third of Tar­get’s store team mem­bers are sched­uled to work on Thanks­giv­ing, and we con­tinue to hear from store af­ter store that there were more vol­un­teers than shifts to fill.”

Sur­veys show that 40 per­cent of what is pur­chased on Gray Thurs­day is for the shop­pers them­selves — not oth­ers. Stores are not con­cerned about cus­tomers’ in­ten­tions — as long as the cash reg­is­ters are ring­ing.

“As a re­tailer, I want to give you ev­ery chance to part with money at my store,” Mr. Magliocco said. “The down­side from an em­ployee per­spec­tive [is that], if I am a Tar­get em­ployee, I really do have to sit there half at work and half at home for my whole Thanks­giv­ing meal.”

That is where Ken Hunt of Cul­lo­den, W.Va., said his wife would be. She has worked for Kmart for nearly 29 years, and hol­i­days are the busiest. Even though the re­tired pub­lic-works em­ployee is used to it, he said, that doesn’t mean thinks it’s a good idea.

“I think Thurs­day should be off-lim­its, set aside for fam­ily,” Mr. Hunt said. “It goes hand in hand with fam­ily val­ues and our great coun­try. Of course, I wish my wife didn’t have to work that day, but it’s all about which re­tail chain can open first and bring in the largest crowds.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pri­or­ity Check? Denise Smith-Lad asks her grand­son, Jor­dan Smith, 6, what he would like to eat as they camp in front of a Best Buy store in Cock­rell Hill, Texas on Mon­day, Nov. 19. Mrs. Smith and her fam­ily lined up for the deals avail­able on the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

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