Are Wal-Mart and Target ruining Thanksgiving?

A host of retailers, including big box stores, are opening their doors on Turkey Day. Many say the new policy will taint the holiday—and give the retailers a black eye.


On Thanksgivings years from now, we’ll tell our kids and grandkids that the November holiday once was spent at the table, eating and giving thanks and nothing more—as we line up at our favorite big box retailer waiting for the doors to open.

What malarkey, you say?

Surely you’ve heard that the nation’s largest retailers are opening on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m., after years of nudging their opening times ever closer to the witching hour on Black Friday.

The breach into Thursday evening has outraged Thanksgiving traditionalists, irked retail employees, and given the stores involved a potential PR black eye.

Most employees want their holiday back

The lineup of national retail chains hanging their “open” signs on Turkey Day include Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears, as well as selected Gap and Toys R Us locations.

Some employees of these stores have launched an online protest via Change.org, urging retailers to remain closed on the holiday. One petition beseeching Target not to open on Thanksgiving has more than 200,000 supporters.

“Will you join me and ask Target to give Thanksgiving back to families and not open on Thanksgiving evening?” the petition asks.

Meanwhile, a Target spokesperson told NBCNews.com that some employees are excited to work Thanksgiving to pick up the extra hours and earn holiday pay.

“Target’s opening time was carefully evaluated with our guests, team, and the business in mind,” said Molly Snyder, a company representative. “Across the country, team member preferences were considered in creating our store staffing schedules. Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest of the year, and we appreciate our Target team’s flexibility on this weekend and throughout the holiday season.”

Fans of PR Daily‘s Facebook page are not pleased with stores’ throwing open their doors on Turkey Day. Nearly everyone who took part in an informal survey agreed: Retailers are ruining Thanksgiving. A couple of commenters noted the ill effects the move will have on employee morale.

“These companies say they are family friendly, but they are taking their employees AWAY from their families at special holiday times,” said one commenter.

Another person suggested executives at these retailers give working the holiday a try:

“It seems they’re more interested in increasing sales than creating a corporate culture that employees appreciate. If the suits would be willing to sacrifice their holidays to come in and work, I think that would go a long way toward promoting teamwork and at least a better sense of cohesiveness.”

Best Buy seized on this point when noting that its stores won’t open until the clock strikes midnight and Thanksgiving is over.

“Black Friday offers will be available online on Thursday,” a spokesperson for the electronics chain told CNN. “We wanted to have the balance to give our employees time with their loved ones on the holiday.”

PR black eye for companies

The feeling among many Americans is that the new opening hours are ruining the Thanksgiving spirit.

“This is just getting crazy,” said a PR Daily Facebook fan. “Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday that acts as a bridge to the holidays it is a time for family. Who needs to leave before we have pumpkin pie to go buy a laptop for $50 off? Lame!”

Such sentiment could hurt the retailer’s reputation, said Aimee Woodall, president and founder of the Black Sheep Agency in Houston.

“Nothing makes you look more like Scrooge than asking your employees to come in on a holiday,” she told PR Daily.

By opening on Thanksgiving, stores put themselves in a tough position, she explained. Although some employees welcome the extra pay, others—as evidenced by the Change.org petitions—are not pleased.

The petition with the 200,000-plus signatures sends “a pretty loud message,” according to Woodall.

“From a PR standpoint, it’s crucial that these companies show that their employees are more important than the bottom line, especially during the holiday season,” she added.

Benefit to the economy?

Despite the public’s and the employee’s misgivings, the earlier hours are seen as a way to jump-start holiday spending, which accounts for roughly one-third of retailers’ annual sales. The presidential election has reportedly slowed the upswing in spending that early holiday shopping brings.

Retail industry veteran Brandon Lott doesn’t buy it.

“There will be a minimal impact,” he said of big box stores’ opening on Thanksgiving. “It will not be enticing enough to pull families away from … spending that special time of the year with who matters and remembering about what matters.”

According to Lott, who has more than 20 years of experience in retail luxury goods, the new Turkey Day hours are more for specialty retailers to get a piece of the proverbial (pumpkin) pie.

If Thanksgiving shopping becomes the norm—and it’s something that Kmart’s done for years—it will be important to remember that the onus also falls on the consumer.

As one PR Daily Facebook commenter put it: “The more appropriate question to ask is, ‘Are people ruining Thanksgiving by feeling the need to go shopping at 8 p.m.?'”

Touché.

What do you think? Are retailers destroying the Thanksgiving holiday by opening early?

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