Some Retailers Pull Back From Black Friday Race

Call it Black Friday fatigue.

With stores racing to open ever earlier on Thanksgiving (Wal-Mart’s doors will open at 10 p.m.!), a backlash is growing, with some retailers and analysts questioning the madness.

“The lunacy of opening at 12 midnight or even earlier on Thanksgiving evening shows that this whole Black Friday thing has run out of legs,” said IDC Retail Insights program director Greg Girard. “Black Friday is a race to the bottom, and it’s just become another ad avenue.”

Other analysts think this year's extended hours are meant to distract shoppers from a lack of exciting inventory.

“If you build it, they will come,” said NPD Group chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen, “but they won’t come in the dead of night. To me, you’re not going to sell more product just because you’re open more hours. It’s more of a smoke screen than it is a solution to the issue.”

This year, some stores are choosing not to take extreme measures to lure in bargain-hungry customers as they kick off a season that is expected to bring in about $465.6 billion in sales, a modest 2.8 percent increase over last year.

Sears, for one, has decided to pass on the trend for midnight openings set by big-box retailers including Best Buy, Kohls and Target. Toys 'R' Us is opening at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night, an hour ahead of Wal-Mart.

Last year, Sears chose to keep its doors open on Thanksgiving from 7 a.m. until noon, with the idea that shoppers would come in early to rack up a few deals and then head home to their families for a midday meal.

But while the company did have good numbers that day, “The customer feedback was very clear,” said Sears spokesman Tom Aiello. “The customers liked the deals, but they didn’t like the idea of Thanksgiving shorted as a holiday.”

So the chain will revert to its original plan to open at 4 a.m. on Friday. “I think there’s a group of customers that don’t aspire to get up in the middle of the night,” Aiello said.

Retail chain JC Penneyalso decided to stick with a 4 a.m. opening time this year so employees can spend Thanksgiving with friends and family, according to a company spokesman.

Employees at Target and Best Buy have launched petition drives on the website protesting the early openings. “A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day,” wrote petition creator Anthony Hardwick, who identifies himself as a Target employee.

Some local retailers are still undecided on their Black Friday hours and will make last-minute decisions, according to Cohen.

Others are resisting the bonanza that is Black Friday altogether—or at least, they engage in more subtlety. Seattle-based retail chain Nordstrom has avoided opening its doors on Thanksgiving throughout the company’s history and in recent years has posted signs in its stores that read, “One holiday at a time.”

Nordstrom waits until the morning of Black Friday to unveil its Christmas decorations, though it will open doors early that morning in some locations.

“It’s not as in your face,” said Forrester vice president and senior analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, “but there’s a reason that Thanksgiving weekend that people work longer hours and [the stores] pull out all the stops as far as offering sales and promotions—because that’s the nature of that weekend.”

Analyst Greg Girard of IDC said Black Friday is virtually absent from the websites of brand-oriented stores like Gap, Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor.

"And they’re doing something much more surgical in that they’re moving towards direct communications, like text messaging to consumers," he said. "They’re getting to consumers with whom they have a longer lifetime relationship."

Nordstrom, like many higher-end stores, doesn’t rely as heavily on Black Friday to make or break its sales year. Black Friday “is among our most high volume days. But it isn’t our largest sales day of the year, unlike many retailers,” said Nordstrom spokesman Colin Johnson.

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