November 26 2013
In early November, discount retailer Kmart made headlines when it announced that it would open at 6am on Thanksgiving Day and stay open for 41 straight hours. The fact that Kmart will be open on Thanksgiving is not the news here—Kmart, along with several other stores, opened their doors last Thanksgiving. But last year, Kmart did close for a few hours in the evening: this year, that’s not so.
To say there’s been a backlash to Kmart’s decision would be an understatement. Really, there’s been a deluge of criticism against the move, mostly arguing that keeping the store open all day Thanksgiving means that many Kmart employees won’t get to spend the holiday with their families. A CBS News poll taken in mid-November revealed that fewer than two in ten Americans approve of stores being open on Thanksgiving. So why are the stores open, anyway?
In short: because a lot of people actually want to shop on Thanksgiving Day. According to the National Retail Federation, 23.5 percent of Americans—about 33 million people—are planning to shop on Thanksgiving. And in fact, those stores that attempt to slow the movement towards earlier openings have been punished for their efforts. Take this tale of woe from J.C. Penney last year, as reported by Time:
A year ago, then CEO Ron Johnson decided that J.C. Penney would largely sidestep the madness, and that Thanksgiving should be reserved for families. Stores wouldn’t open at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, but at the more reasonable hour (relatively speaking) of 6 a.m. While prices would be good, there would be no coupons or absurd, over-the-top discounts. For the most part, consumers reacted to these “fair and square” offers and policies by heading directly to competitors. After last year’s experience, and with its back against the wall, J.C. Penney now has no choice but to resort to the extended holiday hours and “fake prices” it tried to move away from.
Indeed, J.C. Penney has moved its Black Friday opening this year to 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening.
So who’s to blame here? Some say the stores are being greedy, putting the desire to make money above their own employees, who must forgo their holiday to work. But others say that shoppers have forced the stores’ hand, that the stores which open earlier are rewarded by customers eager to save a couple hundred dollars on a new television.
No matter who is at fault, there is a clear coarsening of the culture, a decline in respect for the Thanksgiving holiday combined with an increase in the desire to get a good deal at the mall. The whole “shopping on Thanksgiving” controversy makes me think of Charlotte Hays’ new book, When Did White Trash Become the New Normal?. Early in the book, she writes a list comparing quality experiences to “trashy” ones. One comparison that’s rather apt for a Thanksgiving discussion: “sitting down to dinner as a family” is quality, while “everybody grabs his own bag of pork rinds” is trashy.
I think this gets to the heart of a discussion about shopping on the Thanksgiving holiday. The communal nature of Thanksgiving—of all holidays, really—is being superseded by the wish to fill individual desires. How many times have you heard complaints about the commercialization of Christmas? Thanksgiving is now undergoing that commercialization creep, turning the holiday into another shopping day.
No matter your plans for the day, I hope you have a wonderful, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving!