Thanksgiving, Black Friday and holiday shopping

Nov. 21, 2013

by Doris Green

More and more retailers are announcing that they will be open to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day. Will you be among the crowd?

Jerry O’Brien, executive director of the Kohl’s Center for Retailing Excellence in the School of Human Ecology, offers his thoughts on the 2013 pre-holiday shopping season and tips for buying the gifts that meet your goals.

Photo: Jerry O’Brien

Jerry O’Brien

Q: This year more retailers will open their stores on Thanksgiving Day. Will this sales strategy work?

A: Yes, it’s going to work. For the past decade, people have been getting up in the middle of the night in order to shop early on Black Friday. Shopping with your family on Thanksgiving will be more enjoyable than setting the alarm for 4 a.m. For many people, shopping is an entertainment and it can be fun. While other individuals see it as a dreaded chore, many enjoy it as a social event. Or they are extreme bargain hunters and like the opportunity to find great deals.

Q: Will online sales impact store sales?

A: Online sales won’t affect Thanksgiving sales much at all. While I think that online sales will increase by as much as 30 percent this year, they still make up less than 5 percent of all retail sales.

Q: Why are online sales growing?

A: Consumers are consistently more comfortable with online shopping. The experience is growing easier and delivery is better. This year Amazon and the post office have even worked out an arrangement for Sunday deliveries.

Q: Is the pressure on retailers greater this year?

A: Absolutely. The shopping season is shorter than last year, with 25 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared to 31 days last year, and that includes a weekend. This is a big deal for retailers.

Q: Will the pressure on retailers continue next year and stores be open even longer hours?

A: The size of the pie doesn’t get any bigger, so you’ll see stores opening earlier and earlier every year. When Black Friday first started, stores opened at 7 a.m., then it was 6 a.m., and then 5 a.m.

Going forward, the push-back against this expansion may get more organized. Like many other issues, store opening times may become a more polarizing topic.

Q: Will you shop on Thanksgiving?

A: No, but it won’t affect my holiday if my neighbor does. I think that some employees are put in a bad spot, though many other businesses are routinely open on Thanksgiving, including movie theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, and convenience stores. We’re such a 24/7, 365 country.

Q: You may not be shopping, but a lot of people will head to the stores.

A: Twenty-five million Americans say they will shop this Thanksgiving. If no one shopped on Thanksgiving, no stores would be open.

Q: So consumer behavior impacts retailers’ decisions.

A: Consumers control our economy. But they don’t always shop to match their values.

Q: Like buying locally.

A: It’s important for consumers to be more conscious shoppers. If you only shop at a local shop once a year, don’t be surprised when it closes. If fair trade or organics or workers’ rights are important to you, take those values to your buying decisions. Conscious shopping drives better business.

Q: What tips do you have for holiday shopping this year?

A: Think about what you really want and what’s important to you:

  • Because the economy is still growing slowly, retailers are not buying as deep. If you see a cool product, you’d better get it early in the season, or it might disappear from the shelves. If you’re willing to risk the wait, there will be really good deals the week before Christmas. Waiting could pay off.
  • If you are planning to purchase electronics, don’t be dazzled by all the new features. Invest only in things that you will use or need. Beware of upgrade fever.
  • Always be careful with buying. The momentary joy of buying may not outweigh the long-term stress of debt.