The Growing Debate Over Thanksgiving Day Shopping

Thanksgiving Day for me has always been a day spent at home with family, waking up early to watch the parade on TV and later whipping up a decadent meal for holiday guests to enjoy. While my holiday may sound somewhat similar to yours, that could all be changing soon thanks to a slew of retailers who will be open on Thanksgiving Day. So far, eight major retailers and department stores— Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Sears, Macy's, Kohl's, JC Penney, and Old Navy—have  announced Thanksgiving shopping hours, and analysts say more could be coming. There's been quite an uproar over whether or not stores should be open on the holiday, with many saying it doesn't allow for workers to stay home with their families. For that reason alone, I can't say that I support Thanksgiving Day shopping hours.

So why are so many retailers opening on Thanksgiving this year? For starters, this year's holiday shopping season is the shortest we've seen in over a decade with only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And not only are retailers grappling with a shorter season, but they also have to work harder to grab consumers' attention since 53 percent of shoppers plan to spend less on holiday gift giving this year than they did in 2012 according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. With the holiday season accounting for up to 50 percent of a retailer's annual profits, every day and every dollar counts during the critical year-end period. By opening on Thanksgiving, companies might be aiming to ease some of the strain of the shorter season.

Another reason Thanksgiving Day has become appealing for brick-and-mortar stores is how popular it has become for ecommerce shoppers. Last year, customers spent $633 million in online sales on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps retailers figure that since customers are willing to shop online after their turkey dinner, maybe they'll want to shop in stores, too? For the customer that can't resist a good deal online despite it being a holiday, retailers are now willing to create that same buzz with in-store Thanksgiving Day deals that are equally appealing.

Let's also keep in mind that Thanksgiving Day shopping is really nothing new. Kmart, Sears and Toys R Us have welcomed shoppers on Thanksgiving Day since 2010.  That same year, Walmart opened its doors at midnight and each year since, opening times have gotten earlier and earlier with more stores following suit. A survey conducted by the NRF found that in 2012, of the 139.4 million adults who shopped Black Friday weekend, about 10 percent of them were out at stores by 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and another estimated 28 percent of them arrived by midnight. Understanding this, it's no surprise that retailers are opening earlier this year, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea, especially for already-overextended and time-strapped American families.

According to recent surveys, there are fewer people interested in hitting the stores on Black Friday anyway. Nielsen's annual Holiday Spending Forecast found that only 13 percent of customers will visit stores on Black Friday, down from 17 percent last year. In-store sales last year also turned out to be fewer than those reported in 2011. So are customers really all that excited about shopping in stores earlier and earlier after all? I think not.

There's no denying that holiday shopping can take a huge chunk out of some family's yearly budget, so BlackFriday deals will always be a winning bargain. But instead of prying families apart on the Thanksgiving holiday, retailers should perhaps shift their focus to offering early deals online. It's one thing to wake up early on Thanksgiving and put a few items in your online shopping cart, but it's totally another to abort family dinner to rush out and nab an Old Navy doorbuster. I'm grateful that some companies, such as Apple, Costco and Nordstrom, are taking a stand against Thanksgiving shopping. Aren't there are enough distractions and circumstances that prevent us from having uninterrupted quality time with our families as it is?  Thanksgiving Day, for many, is the one day that we can put aside those distractions to focus on nurturing our familial relationships and enjoying each other's company in the holiday spirit. 

What do you think about the trend of stores opening on Thanksgiving? Will retailers benefit or are they setting themselves up for failure by driving customers to patronize stores who respect the boundaries of the holiday? Let us know what you think in the comments. And stay tuned to FierceRetail for more coverage leading up to—and continuing through—Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the aftermath!