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[30 comments]

Walmart Can't Wait for Black Friday to Begin

November 12, 2012

Ten p.m. must have been too late a start for Walmart last Thanksgiving. This year the retailer has decided that it will swing open its doors at eight o'clock in a rush to capture greater share of consumer expenditures this holiday season.

Walmart will not be alone as others are also trying to gain any edge they can. Interestingly, Walmart takes this action as many question the relative importance of the Black Friday weekend when online sales make up a growing percentage of holiday season sales and consumers push purchasing closer to Christmas.

The push to move up hours has also led to disgruntled employees who think Walmart and others can do just as well overall during the season without having associates work a shift on Thanksgiving. Last year, a Target employee named Anthony Hardwick started a petition on change.org to ask the chain to change its opening from midnight on Black Friday to 5:00 a.m. While Mr. Hardwick was not successful in his bid to get Target to delay its opening, he did manage to get more than 40,000 people to declare their support.

A RetailWire poll last November found that 78 percent believe it is somewhat to very likely that most large chains will open for business on Thanksgiving at some point in the years to come.

Discussion Questions:

How much advantage do Walmart and others gain by opening hours earlier than the competition? Are you concerned there could be a drop-off in customer service at stores where employees are required to work on days traditionally reserved for friends and family?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How big an advantage will Walmart gain by opening its stores on Thanksgiving?

Comments:

I think the horse was out of the barn on this issue (so to speak) last year when Walmart decided to open at 10 p.m. in the first place. Opening two hours earlier (and getting competitors like Target to follow suit) was inevitable. The only question now is whether these stores will start to open during "regular" hours on Thanksgiving Thursday and perhaps stay open all night -- if they don't already.

Whether this drives incremental sales is debatable, but there's no debate about a serious fight for market share going on. As to the sanctity of Thanksgiving as a family-centered holiday -- and the concept of Black Friday itself -- those ideas are sadly starting to look quaint.

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Let's hope there is a significant drop-off in service and that employees forced to work on Thanksgiving for no reason other than corporate greed are just as nasty as can be.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Opening early definitely offers a competitive advantage because the early opening becomes in itself an event. The real question becomes, how long before the retailers simply open their doors during Thanksgiving Day while offering turkey dinners to the customers?

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David Biernbaum, Senior Marketing and Business Development Consultant, David Biernbaum Associates LLC

If many of the big box chains open on Thanksgiving, there is no advantage, only a large number of employees who will be told to give up family time so consumers can shop 8 hours earlier than the year before. This reminds me of the 1960's nuclear arms race. No one won, we just wound up with mutually assured destruction.

Retailers should show they care about employees by staying closed on Thanksgiving. The crowds will be there at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Opening on Thanksgiving is like the four minute mile -- once it has been done it suddenly becomes easier. The justification can be for many reasons, to allow customers to shop when they want, etc., but the real reason is to try and gain a competitive advantage. Obviously, any benefit disappears when everyone does it.

I agree with Dick. It is only a matter of time before it becomes another shopping day. Is Black Wednesday far off?

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

Let's see ... Sears is opening their "Black Friday" promotions four days earlier -- (Grey Monday????????).

I think we should solve the whole problem by opening stores at midnight October 31 and keeping them open non-stop until Christmas Day. After all, what says "Special" better than a promotion that runs for two months?

Of course ... if that happened ... then Walmart would have to start their "holiday" period on Labor Day. Then, Sears would have to move back their "holiday" sale to the Fourth of July. Then ... well, you get the idea.

As that great retail analyst Aretha Franklin once asked, "Who's zooming who?"

The idea of calculating Black Friday starts with the retail equivalent of an infinite regression model is bound to backfire one of these days when consumers wake up to the fact that the entire retail community -- with the thankful exception of Nordstrom -- is herding them like sheep to the slaughter.

Oh ... about that whole customer service thing? No worries. Employees -- if they are working these bizarre shifts at least call them what they are, they aren't associates just chattel labor -- love to leave the dinner table to get trampled by customers too acquisitive and dumb to stay home and enjoy the holidays with their families.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

It's just wrong. We have a national holiday to bring people and families together. This grasp at inserting yourself is so callous -- Walmart's special deals start Thanksgiving afternoon.

Rats to the cheese isn't the way to treat customers, or more importantly, your employees -- many of whom are part-time. As I wrote in a recent blog post, treat me like a dog and I'm going to bite you.

Is it a wonder the video of Walmart employees throwing iPads around went viral? It is a direct result of treating employees like serfs and the more such ivory tower ideas are adopted, the more likely it will be hard to get anyone to want to work, much less shop those businesses.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

Black Friday is a shopping tradition that over the past several years has changed. This is yet another change as retailers attempt to gain more sales, and as more and more shoppers attempt to gain more goods at less cost. It is a win win for those who like to get a better deal, but a loss to those of us who prefer traditions not be broken.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

Opening earlier does put another wrinkle into the bargin shopper planning process, and adds excitement and choices of where to go first to get the big deals. At some point the practice of opening earlier won't be beneficial, but looks like it still has legs.

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Larry Negrich, Vice President, Marketing, nGage Labs

Opening earlier for Black Friday reminds me of a horse race where the biggest horse owner bets everything on winning a certain race with the special efforts of their grooms during a family holiday. The grooms may grumble about being deprived of the time traditionally reserved for their family -- but jobs are tight and consumers clamor for unique low-priced bargains.

In reality, smaller stables follow and all paddock gates open simultaneously, but there is usually only one winner. That frequently is the best horse from the richest stable, which today is Walmart.

With Walmart aggressively focused on taking more and more SOM from its grocery, drug and discount store competitors, will Walmart become the equivalent of the AT&T monopoly of yesterday?

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

There will be little advantage to Walmart. If anything, they have put themselves at even more risk of further incident. At some point, that will so tarnish Walmart that it will have a negative impact.

Retailers have already crossed the line with their employees by requiring them to work on holidays. That battle is over. Many retailers do this by volunteer, so it has become even less of an issue.

The better question is, when all forms of retailing become 24/7/365, will we look back at opening at 7:00 AM or 8:00 AM on "Black Friday" as the "Good Ol'days"? When the field is 100% the same, does "Black Friday" even exist? We're not that far from it.

What really is happening is retailers have begun the process of making a day that was once significant now irrelevant.

'Scanner'

Black Friday is gone as the beginning of the Christmas season, so the sales can start any day the retailer chooses (that seems to be happening anyway with Grey Monday). There will probably be more people interested in the deals than will be offended by the sales on Thanksgiving (except for the employees and their families) so the practice will continue. Maybe someone will start an effective social media campaign to boycott stores on Thanksgiving. If they do not make sales, the practice will die out. As long as the practice is perceived as necessary to keep up with the competition, it will continue.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

What a shame. What's next, staying open on Christmas Day? We can hope that their customer base rejects tasteless moves like this, and I feel sorry for their employees.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

There is definitely an advantage to opening stores earlier than the competition. The few hours of gained sales can help a retailer through increased sales, which is very much welcomed in the current economy. I think that anyone working in retail has to be prepared for the busy season and must know what the Black Friday onslaught entails. I hope that working non-traditional days will not cause a drop-off in customer service. If these earlier hours for Black Friday continue, will we soon be referring to Thanksgiving Day as "Black Thursday?"

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Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO, Interactive Edge

Okay here goes nothin'... As all of you know, I can not stand the lovefest most folks have for Walmart, and this move just reminds me of what is important. Is nothing sacred anymore, especially getting together with your family to enjoy ONE DAY of peace, to relax before the BIG RUSH? I guess not, and it is typical of these giant stores to jump the gun and sell all there cheap stuff a day early to convince customers that they're the place to shop.

I value time with my Family, and all my employees have that day off, as it is important to gather together for that day and give thanks for all of our blessings. Am I too sentimental??? Probably, and I am glad I was taught that some things are more important than money, by my mom and dad. As more and more independents get pushed out of the marketplace, the ones left standing will hopefully continue to respect the traditions of Thanksgiving by allowing their employees to enjoy a full day with Family!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Little advantage gained; much employee goodwill lost. Most of the 5am opening and shopping is a family event. Having the stores open at 8pm or 10pm doesn't increase sales, it just ruins the employees' holiday.

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Robert DiPietro, GVP Product Strategy & Business Development, Affinion Group

Opening early? Does this mean that Walmart and Target customers will go out at whatever the opening time is (maybe it will get to where they will not close Wednesday night); return home for two hours, sleep, and return to challenge the throngs at other stores where opening early is not the priority, the associates are?

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Walmart and others continue to push the envelope on what time and day they open. What used to be an exciting day for retailers and customers (Black Friday) has now turned into the day after event. Even worse, employees and customers are required to leave family and friends to "save money." A major drug store chain in Canada started Holiday music in their stores on November 1st and just this weekend turned it off after more than a few customers complained that the chain was rushing the holidays. Walmart, Target and others that open on Thanksgiving are doing the same thing.

Questions retailers need to ask themselves:

1)Were my overall profits more than if I had just been open on Black Friday? I say profits because you have to think about the cost of associates coming in on a nationally recognized holiday to work. Plus your sales are split between Thursday and Friday.

2)Did opening on Thanksgiving jeopardize the quality customer service I am use to delivering?

3)Did opening on a national holiday create dissent with associates that are on the front lines and was it worth it?

Customers need to ask themselves:

1)Was leaving my friends and family to get in line to buy "stuff" worth it or does it defeat the purpose of the holidays?

2)Did I drive to the store while intoxicated? Is it even safe to shop on Thanksgiving? If I am driving sober is everyone else?

3)Should I protest stores that open on Thanksgiving to help drive them back to opening on Friday? Retailers follow what customers demand. If you shop on Thursday they will continue to open earlier and earlier.

This holiday season, let's remember what is important. It shouldn't be a 32" LCD TV for $200. It's about friends and family and being thankful for all that we have in life, including our health.

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John Boccuzzi, Jr., Managing Partner, Boccuzzi, LLC

It is a fight to the death for customers and market share. In my opinion, it is inevitable that retailers will open their doors on the last of the inviolate holidays.

Consumers shop 24/7/365 as it is, and the brick and mortars are doing everything that they can to capture those dollars.

I personally mourn the loss of those quiet holidays when families would get up late, lounge around in their pajamas. It seems today they get up early and shop online AND in stores...the only thing remaining unchanged is that many still do it in their pajamas.

Charles P. Walsh, President, OmniQuest Resources, Inc

There is collateral damage to this move. As those sales dollars are recorded on Thursday, Black Friday as a key economic indicator of the season will suffer. Many consumers will rethink their spend for the season again with every report of poor economic results. Retail doesn't need that kind of signal going to consumers at that critical time of year. While Walmart has the most to gain on Thanksgiving Day, they have the most to lose in the season.

This is all about more cheap thrills. It really plays well to the hand of the movement to shop with local-owned independents, so let the craziness continue.

I agree with several statements of others. Consumers have been duped by the whole escapade, but more of them are waking up to it. This does even more to drive people to distrust and using the Internet and their smartphone to find the absolute lowest (profit for retailers) price on anything they buy. I hope it becomes the well deserved start of the unraveling of big retail.

Sid Raisch, President, Advantage Development System

I can't add anything to Ryan Mathews' post. He said it all and just right!!!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Count me as one of those individuals who would never spoil a precious day off with family by rubbing elbows with frantic, sweaty, cranberry-stained bargain hunters in a retail emporium constructed of cinder blocks.

Opening the stores earlier may siphon some early dollars out of the pockets of shoppers who enjoy that sort of thing. Taken at a large scale, that may influence share of wallet slightly. This may be good business from the shareholder perspective, but it feels to me like just one more increment in the decent of our cultural hand-basket.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Ryan is so right. This is ridiculous. All a game. It is the retail form of inside baseball. Let's see if we open early we can make it an event, advertise it and then project the incremental. But wait, is it really going to deliver incremental sales? Well, how do you know? Are we going to have matched stores NOT opened earlier than last year? No, all stores will be open at 8pm or whatever time we call it "early."

Seriously, with the ability to shop 24/7 is a retailer truly stealing share of wallet from the competition? From a society standpoint, pulling employees away from family in order to work these type of shifts is sad.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

The bottom line on sales remains to be seen, but I do think there will be some damage to customer service and employee motivation.

And...how early is too early? Will we soon see Black Friday sales starting on Halloween?

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

It won't be Black Friday. It will be Black Thursday -- or Turkey Thursday. This is like an amenity war between hotels. The mints on my pillow are bigger than yours! In this case, I'll open sooner than you. Competition will follow and after the first year, if competition even waits that long, Walmart will go back to their original hours, if not successful, or the competition will match the hours, if it is successful.

The announcement will be an "event" an stir some excitement. It may get some consumers into their store first.

Employees may enjoy the extra hours, especially if they are compensated fairly and the management works the hours between employees out so everyone has their desired family time. We work with clients who have employees working on holidays. Many times the employees help and participate scheduling during these special times.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

This is just defining the inevitable...a full opening on Thanksgiving Day. There is no reason for these stores to be open very early, or even late on Thanksgiving Day. Jump to the obvious and start the sales then....

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

As everyone here figured out, there is no advantage at all, once everyone else does the same. The bigger question in my mind is how long before some state legislature updates -- or revives -- its Blue Laws to prohibit Thanksgiving opening all together. Will "family first" eventually triumph over "government butt out" in some Red (or maybe even Blue) Statehouse?

'notcom'

I predicted this a couple years ago here on RetailWire. You could see the crack in the door and knew it was only a matter of time until it swung wide open, so to speak.

It is almost hilarious how these big box stores can't wait to open earlier to give product away and make no profits. But they can brag to Wall Street about their sales.

Sadly the customers will come since shopping is our national pastime, but it is extremely unfair to the employees. Most of them were fine living with the midnight madness hours, but this is just wrong.

No wonder that a new report out says that retail has one of the lowest scores of people who recommend their job to their kids. Our employees deserve better, and I hope that most retailers draw a line in the sand and say, "NO!"

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Doug Fleener, President and Managing Partner, Dynamic Experiences Group

At a certain point things economics trumps tradition. As long as the sales dollars flow in the stores when it opens, they will be open earlier on Thanksgiving. After all, service industries such as C-stores/gas stations and long haul drivers work on Thanksgiving already . It is unfortunate, but as long as consumers are lining the doors, retailers will oblige to open stores earlier on Thanksgiving. If consumers aren't lining out the door, retailers won't be opening the doors earlier.

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Kenneth Leung, Director of Enterprise Industry Marketing, Avaya

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Employees matter. Thanksgiving is for families and they will have a lot of disgruntled employees. As a shopper I am disgruntled for them. This shopper won't be ruining anyone's holiday. I'll be spending every minute of it with my family. As it should be.

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Janet Dorenkott, VP & Co-owner, Relational Solutions, Inc.

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