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VOL. 9 | NO. 47 | Saturday, November 19, 2016

Holiday Decision

Many retailers reverse course and will be closed on Thanksgiving

By K. DENISE JENNINGS

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In recent years the holiday shopping season has been inching back further and further, with some retailers choosing to give up the tradition of being closed on Thanksgiving. But this year public backlash has reached the top of the retail chain, and some big malls and shopping centers are deciding it’s not worth opening on the national holiday.

Minnesota-based Mall of America announced in October that it will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, reopening at 5 a.m. on Black Friday, a reversal of a trend that started in 2012 when the mall opened at midnight on Thanksgiving and in recent years has eaten further into the holiday.

Several retailers quickly followed suit, led by Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL & Associates Properties Inc. which owns, holds interests or manages more than 140 shopping centers across the country, including the 520,000-square-foot Southaven Towne Center in the Memphis MSA.

Stephen Lebovitz, CEO of CBL, said the decision to close on Thanksgiving Day was two-fold.

“For one, we strongly believe that Thanksgiving is a family holiday and that our employees and the employees of our retailers should be able to spend the holiday with their families, and if the mall is open, they can’t do that. We counted up and between stores and our employees, it’s roughly 100,000 people who will get the day off because of our decision.”

While retailers choosing to close on Thanksgiving are getting a big public relations boost and building goodwill with employees, the decision isn’t completely altruistic.

Data shows that being open on Thanksgiving doesn’t add much to companies’ bottom lines, but rather stretches the amount people are spending over four days instead of three.

“From a business standpoint, we saw that we had the same amount of sales, and they were just spread out over two days and more hours,” said Lebovitz.

Citing an International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) study, Lebovitz said only 11 percent of people shop on Thanksgiving, while 80 percent shop Big Friday.

“It’s not anywhere close to the most popular shopping day, so we decided to focus on Big Friday and not dilute it,” he said.

According to RetailNext, a comprehensive retail analytics company, the top 10 shopping days for sales, in order, are predicted to be Dec. 23, Dec. 17 (Super Saturday), Nov. 25 (Black Friday), Dec. 22, Dec. 21, Dec. 18, Dec. 24, Dec. 10, Dec. 16 and Dec. 3.

BANKING ON BLACK FRIDAY

Collierville-based Carriage Crossing will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, said general manager Susan Eads, but the individual stores can make their own decisions about opening. So far the only retailer she knows is opening is Macy’s, which announced their stores will open one hour earlier than last year, at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

“I think generally from the stores’ perspectives, they don’t make any more money,” Eads said. “It just gets shifted around. I think that’s why they’re getting away from it. I also think it diminishes the excitement of the Black Friday experience. We have big groups every year who come and rent hotel rooms and stay and shop. It’s a die-hard group of people that are all about the hunt.”

Carriage Crossing stores open at various times on Black Friday, and stores will be offering door buster specials. In addition, Santa’s prize patrol will be going all around the open-air shopping center handing out gift cards to shoppers and FM 100 will have a live remote onsite.

Amy Schepemaker, who owns Therapy at Carriage Crossing, says her store will be closed Thanksgiving and will open at 8 a.m. on Black Friday, offering a free gift with purchases over $50. “We’ve always been closed on Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving Day is an important day for me to spend with my family and my employees, too,” she said. “We probably do miss out on a small amount of shoppers, but I really appreciate my employees. I’m a family-oriented person and I tend to put that first. I’ve found that a lot of customers kind of appreciate that.”

Schepemaker also owns Image Boutique at Wolfchase Mall, which will also be closed.

A spokeswoman for Wolfchase Mall said, “We’re going on last year’s schedule until further notice.” The mall is owned by Simon Property Group, which owns, manages and develops retail real estate globally. It was open on Thanksgiving last year.

Tanger Outlets in Southaven and Oak Court Mall in East Memphis will both open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The Shops at Saddle Creek will be closed on Thanksgiving, reopening on Black Friday at 8 a.m. with special events and door busters. Follow Saddle Creek online at www.shopsofsaddlecreek.com and on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for specific Black Friday retailer information.

Longtime local retailers like Babcock Gifts, Oak Hall and Outdoors Inc. are continuing their tradition of staying closed on Thanksgiving.

THE SOCIAL EFFECT

Last year, in a bold move, national outdoor retailer REI announced it would be closed on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, launching the #OptOutside campaign encouraging its customers and employees to get outside and enjoy the holiday weekend. That prompted 150 retailers to follow suit in 2015 and so far this year 275 retailers and organizations have joined in the campaign. Visit www.rei.com/opt-outside for information.

“From a social perspective, millennials are super-attracted to brand ethos, and being closed on Thanksgiving creates some goodwill across a sector of the shopping population,” said Bridget Johns, head of marketing and customer experience at RetailNext, a leading in-store retail analytics company.

Retailers have also gotten real-time feedback through social media channels from many of their customers and employees about their hours. There are currently 153 petitions with more than 391,000 signatures on Change.org in support of retailers closing on Thanksgiving. Many of the petitions are targeting big retailers like Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Target, all of which will remain open this year. A list of retailers who will be closed on Black Friday is available on bestblackfriday.com.

Even though studies show that retailers won’t be giving up many sales, Shelley E. Kohan, vice president of retail consulting for RetailNext, said the trend toward closing on Thanksgiving is more geared toward the human factor over financial considerations.

The win-win is that most big retailers who close on Thanksgiving can still rack up sales from their die-hard Thanksgiving shopping fans thanks to “the synchronicity of the digital world and physical business,” Kohan said.

THE DIGITAL EFFECT

In addition to shifting holiday shopping trends, there is a fundamental shift taking place in shoppers’ behavior that is only going to continue, according to Johns.

“Retailers are finally getting an integrated view of consumers and shopping experiences across all platforms,” she said. “Digital was a big influence last year and we can expect that to continue this year.”

Kohan said to look for digital sales this holiday season to break the $100 billion mark.

Last year, Americans spent more than $3 billion on Cyber Monday, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year, according to ShopperTrak, a global provider of retail analytics.

RetailNext is predicting a 3.2 percent increase in overall sales this holiday season led by a 14 to 16 percent increase in digital channel sales.

“Shoppers don’t feel a big need to get out there,” Johns said. “There are a lot of choices and options to get good prices and the merchandise they’re looking for. Shoppers don’t need to go Thursday, and Friday is more of a social tradition. There’s not as much pressure to get good deals like there has been the past 20 years.”

Since the deals are available online and stretched throughout the month before Christmas, enhancing the physical shopping experience is key for retailers.

“Retailers have gotten a better handle on how to compete with online shopping,” Lebovitz said. “The strategy is to embrace it, and create a multi-platform experience that is an ultimately a convenient experience for them, and to make shopping more fun in the physical store. The new emphasis in the store has to be on the shopping experience.”

Kohan agrees.

“Learn from the customer online and apply it in the store,” she said.

CBL’s Lebovitz says with this shift toward experience shopping, his retail centers have been able to attract stores like American Girl and restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, because shopping is no longer a necessity, it’s an event.

Although retailers are seeing increased sales on their digital platforms, physical stores are not going anywhere, industry insiders say. Just like most other things that succeed long term, they just have to reinvent themselves.

“People really are looking for something special when they step into a physical store,” Johns said. “If retailers don’t have inspirational products and service in their stores, it’s really hard to compete. It’s important to have well-trained associates to bring some of that magic back into the retail experience.”

Retailers who are competing well are investing heavily in integrated shopping platforms: physical stores, mobile and online channels all focused around enhanced customer service. For example, if a customer comes into a store and wears a size 6, and there’s only a size 4, you need to be able to find the size 6 online or at another store and have it shipped to the customer free of charge in minutes.

“The retailers who have invested heavily in this will win this holiday, and it’s not work you can do between now and the holidays,” Johns said. “It’s work you had to have been doing all along.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 19 170
BUILDING PERMITS 0 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 20 118 736
BUSINESS LICENSES 27 53 329
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0