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On Thanksgiving, family gatherings may be back. Heading to the store isn't

On Thanksgiving, family gatherings may be back. Heading to the store isn't

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holiday shopping

A shopper walks by the H&M store while doing Christmas shopping at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA.

Retail workers have something to be thankful for this year: Most stores will be closed on Thanksgiving.

And though it will allow them to celebrate the holiday with their families, staying closed on Thursday isn't an act of benevolence. It's all about the bottom line.

Labor costs are up. Foot traffic is down. Workers are in short supply. Staying closed Thursday makes good business sense. 

And you can still shop online, where the holiday sales already are in full swing.

Staying open on Thanksgiving in previous years wasn't the boon retailers expected it to be. The addition of Thanksgiving to Black Friday weekend showed diminishing returns when it comes to sales numbers.

In fact, Thanksgiving wasn't even in the top 10 busiest shopping days of the 2019 holiday season, according to the Sensormatic holiday shopping recap report from Johnson Controls. That's even though retailers focused much of their promotional and marketing efforts on the Thanksgiving Day kickoff. 

But being absent from stores doesn't mean consumers won't be spending money. After all, online Christmas shopping has become as big a part of Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy.

And while numbers are expected to come in below pre-Covid levels, 30.6 million people plan to spend at least part of turkey day shopping online, according to the National Retail Federation.

All of the biggest chains – including Best Buy, Target and Walmart – will be closed on Thanksgiving, as will all five shopping malls. It's a far cry from Thanksgiving 2019, when J.C. Penney opened at 2 p.m., Old Navy opened at 3 p.m. and both Walden Galleria and the Fashion Outlets didn't close until well after midnight.

But last year, Covid stopped everything in its tracks. Public health protocols discouraged crowds, and posed a significant health risk to workers and consumers alike.

It quickly turned retailers' Black Friday strategies on their heads. Instead of hyping doorbusters and flash sales or trying other ways to drive foot traffic to brick and mortar, the company catered to consumers' desire to stay away out of stores.

Target said it plans to stay closed on Thanksgiving for good.

“What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard – one that recognizes our ability to deliver on our guests’ holiday wishes both within and well beyond store hours,” Target CEO Brian Cornell wrote in a note to employees.

Online shopping, store-to-home delivery, curbside pickup and ship-to-store spiked in popularity across the retail industry last year, and those options are expected to be in high demand again this year.  Target's ecommerce services including same-day Shipt delivery increased by 193% at last year.

The pandemic pushed even the most resistant consumers to the internet.

"Last year at this point in time, we saw far more people indicated that they were going to shop online in part because they just were concerned about going out during that part of the pandemic," said Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute.

Experts predict more online shopping records will be smashed this year. 

Nearly one in two shoppers will do at least half their holiday shopping online this year, according to Siena's survey of holiday shoppers in New York. 

"Those numbers are even greater amongst more affluent New Yorkers who intend to do even more of their shopping online," Levy said.

When retailers first started jump-starting Black Friday by pushing into Thanksgiving, they faced backlash from both labor advocates and consumers. That criticism has never waned. A Deloitte survey this week showed that 72% of shoppers support stores' decisions to remain closed on Thanksgiving.

Now, many are characterizing their decision to close as a benevolent act of goodwill toward their employees.

"Closing our stores on Thanksgiving Day is one way we're saying 'thank you' to our teams for their dedication and hard work this year," said Dacona Smith, Walmart's executive vice president and chief operations officer of stateside stores, in a statement.

More likely, the closure is due to fewer in-store shoppers, higher operating costs and widespread understaffing.

Either way, consumers said they're pleased that stores will stay dark on the holiday, and called it a welcome return to simpler times.

Family businesses have long faced the kind of budget crunch and hiring difficulties mass retailers are now seeing. It's one reason their stores have kept shorter schedules.

Eastern Hills Mall has remained closed on Thanksgiving for years. As it awaits its town center transformation, it has become a community mall, with local small retailers making up the majority of its tenants.

For that reason, its schedule mirrors that of the Elmwood Village shopping district more than it does Walden Galleria's. It opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. most of the week.

"Many local operators just can't operate with such long hours," said Russ Fulton, the Eastern Hills general manager  "Reduced hours assist them with payroll. They can work the store themselves or bring the family."

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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