Black Friday may be losing its chokehold on Thanksgiving.
After encroaching upon the holiday for four years with early store openings and dinnertime doorbusters, retailers have begun to ease away from their turkey day jump start to Black Friday.
But the change in strategy likely has less to do with benevolence than it does with the bottom line.
Numerous reports reveal that starting the shopping season earlier hasn’t boosted profits. In fact, it has diluted them – all while giving retailers added payroll, utility, security and other operational costs, as well as public relations concerns.
Black Friday sales fell 12 percent to $10.2 billion in 2015, according to ShopperTrak. Thanksgiving day raked in just $1.76 billion, down 12.5 percent from 2014.
Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence will be closed for the holiday. Anchors Bon-Ton, JC Penney and Sears, which have their own exterior entrances, will open halfway through the day.
“I felt that as a community mall and with a large number of local tenants, it is only fair to our employees that they enjoy the holiday with their families,” said Russell Fulton, the mall’s general manager.
[Related: These stores plan to stay closed on Thanksgiving.]
The majority of consumers support that stance. A survey from media, research and tech firm Morning Consult shows that 59 percent of shoppers do not support stores opening on Thanksgiving.
Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom Rack and Game Stop have bucked the trend from the start, remaining closed on Thanksgiving. This year, dozens of retailers have followed suit. Pier 1 Imports, Office Depot Office Max, Guitar Center and Bed, Bath & Beyond are among those that will remain closed on Thanksgiving.
Nationally, mall landlord CBL & Associates Properties announced it would close 72 of its shopping malls on Thanksgiving. The Mall of America in Minnesota will close, too, despite being open for the past four years straight.
Though many stores remain closed on Thanksgiving, plenty of others will remain open. Walden Galleria and all of the other local malls except Eastern Hills will open on Thanksgiving. Kmart will open at 6 a.m. and stay open until 10 p.m. Friday. Walmart is open 24 hours.
Traditionally, retailers kicked off the holiday shopping season on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. But over the years, stores began opening earlier and earlier, until the kickoff fell at midnight Thanksgiving night. It then crept earlier again, to 10 p.m., then 5 and 6 p.m.
The Thanksgiving hours, which cut the holiday short for employees, left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths.
One of those consumers is Elena Lorenzo from Town of Tonawanda. She said moving the Black Friday frenzy to Thanksgiving takes the focus off the meaning of the holiday and puts it on material things instead.
“People have become so inhuman shopping on Black Friday,” Lorenzo said. “It’s like kill or be killed just to get the latest bit of technology.”
Such backlash is widespread, with some folks taking their ire to social media to pressure retail giants.
“Greedy retailers are not going to dictate the terms of my holiday,” David Garrett wrote on Facebook.
Debbie Otava opined that the holidays should be about family and friends – not things.
“We are supposed to give thanks, not camp out in parking lots, ready to storm a store the moment it opens,” she wrote.
“Boycott them all!” wrote Gary Kirkham.
Many people vowed to do just that.
More than 143,000 people have signed a petition on MoveOn.org, pledging not to shop on Thanksgiving and pleading with retail executives to close their doors on the holiday.
“A holiday with family should not be a luxury for the rich,” the petition reads. “We believe that all workers deserve the chance to relax and give thanks with loved ones.”
Brian Rich of Idaho started a “Boycott Black Thursday” Facebook page in 2011, which now has about 147,000 likes. A picture on the site that says, “I’m NOT shopping on Thanksgiving Day!” was shared 80,000 times in just three weeks.
This year, Rich is celebrating the fact that some retailers heeded the call to stay closed and are “washing their hands of the failed Black Thursday experiment.”
“It’s been incredible to see our work make a real difference for families in this country,” he said.
Supporters of the movement targeted major brands like Radio Shack, Office Depot and Staples with a social media campaign. Each of those companies reversed last year’s holiday hours.
“It’s the right thing to do for their workers,” Rich said.
DSW has always stayed closed on the holiday. It produced a short web video this year which shows lights being turned out in its stores, and employees slicing pies, packing up shoes and eating Thanksgiving dinner. It reads, “We’re closed, but our hearts are open: volunteering and being thankful for friends and family.”
TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls made hay of their decision to close. Set to the backdrop of such cozy familial scenes as pie making and cuddling by the fireplace, its commercial narrator announces the store is closed for Thanksgiving “because family time comes first.” Viewers are then urged to “put more value on what really matters. This season, bring back the holidays.”
But it’s hard to tell whether retailers are closing because of their compassion for families or – more likely – for financial reasons.
From 2012 to 2013, sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday increased just one percent overall, according to the National Retail Federation. From 2013 to 2014, customer spending on the post-Thanksgiving weekend fell 11 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.
With so many retailers offering deals early – even before Thanksgiving – Black Friday weekend has lost its sense of urgency. Having Thanksgiving Day off again could rebuild some of that mojo.
For now, with so much hype extended over such a long period of time, closing on Thanksgiving is one strategy to stand out to consumers. In fact, the Morning Consult survey showed 48 percent of those surveyed said they are more likely to visit a store on Black Friday if it did not open early on Thanksgiving.