Initial Reports Indicate That Opening On Thanksgiving Was Good For Business

Preliminary data suggests that retailers who chose to open on Thanksgiving Day may have made the right business decision.

Retailers Thanksgiving

As I noted shortly before the holiday, the decision by some retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day caused no small degree of controversy and criticism that retailers were somehow inappropriately cutting in to a holiday that is supposed to be devoted to spending time with family, friends, football and turkey. As it turns out, though, preliminary reports seem to indicate that it was a good business decision:

Shoppers who braved the sales on Black Friday may have wondered at the size of the crowds. Did they seem a bit smaller than in years past?

That’s because, according to one major research firm, they were.

More large retailers were open on Thanksgiving Day this year, and for more hours than in years past. And it appears those openings nibbled away not only at the holiday, but at the sales the day after, too.

“The Thursday store openings did well,” said Bill Martin, founder of the research firm ShopperTrak. “But a lot of it was at the expense of Black Friday.”

Collectively, sales on Thursday and Friday were up 2.3 percent in brick-and-mortar stores over the same two days last year, according to ShopperTrak.

But foot traffic on Black Friday, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, was down more than 11 perfect over last year. Sales were off even more, down 13.2 percent.

The holiday season generally accounts for 20 to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation, and Thanksgiving weekend alone typically represents about 10 to 15 percent of those holiday sales.

This year, however, there is an unusually short window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and retailers tried hard to encourage people to shop early. Deals were offered weeks in advance, and ads pushed the idea that shoppers should get an early start. And many did. According to the retail federation, 53.8 percent of shoppers surveyed in the first week of November said they had already started their shopping, drawn by early sales.

Mr. Martin said that over all, he expected November sales figures to be stronger than last year’s. By Saturday evening, ShopperTrak had not yet completed its data for Thanksgiving Day, but Mr. Martin said he expected sales to be up “dramatically.”

The fact that Thanksgiving Day sales may have somewhat cut into Black Friday sales isn’t really surprising. The population of people likely to take time out of their Thanksgiving Day to go shopping is, quite likely, fairly similar to the population of people likely to get up early on the following day and brave the crowds, and in many cases the cold weather, of Black Friday in search one deal or another. Nonetheless, if it does turn out that there was an increase in sales over the same two day period from last year, then that would seem to be an indication that the decision to open on Thanksgiving did contribute at least in some respect to the increased sales. This arguably stands as a powerful counterargument to those who spent much of the month of November arguing that there was something horribly wrong with the entire idea of being open for all or part of the day on Thanksgiving. In the end, the best way to evaluate that claim is to see whether the decision to open an extra day or half day ended up bringing in more sales, and whether the revenue generated justifies the additional expenses involved in opening for that period. While it will be several weeks before we can know that for sure, and there is good reason to be careful about judging preliminary data, these initial reports at least suggest that the decision to open didn’t exactly turn consumers off.

Putting aside the brick and mortar side of the equation, it also appears that Thursday and Friday were good for online business as well:

Shopping online, however, grew substantially on Thanksgiving and Black Friday this year.

Online sales on Thursday were up nearly 20 percent over last year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, which tracks about 800 retail websites in the United States. Online sales on Friday were up almost 19 percent.

Another major surge came from mobile traffic, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of all online traffic on Friday, said Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce.

“That’s pretty staggering,” he said. “You hear a lot about the year of mobile, and this is probably the fifth annual year of mobile. But 40 percent of all traffic feels like a tipping point.”

Mobile sales grew to about 26 percent of total online sales on Thursday and nearly 22 percent on Friday. On both days, the company saw a late surge in online shopping, presumably, as people finished spending time with their families and snuggled up on the couch with their credit cards.

Or, just as likely, people were spending time with their families while using their mobile devices to shop online instead of playing Angry Birds or hanging out on Twitter, or perhaps they were doing all three at various points during the day. Not exactly the Normal Rockwell vision of the holiday is it?

FILED UNDER: General
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Thanksgiving was also good for breakfast (turkey, potatoes, gravy).

  2. jib10 says:

    Thanksgiving sales are ALWAYS reported as good at this time. It is total noise, i.e. may or may not be true, we will not know until real numbers are reported later. Ritzholtz said it best:

    The annual fabrication of seasonal retail sales data is an American holiday tradition. Sometime over the next week, you can expect to see/read/hear the following lie: “Retail sales over the holiday weekend were surprisingly strong, up XX percent from last year. This bodes well for the upcoming holiday shopping season.”

    If this were written accurately, it would instead read something like this: “We don’t know how strong Black Friday Sales were just yet, and wont for a few days. We don’t know how this holiday retail season will stack up against last year’s; we certainly haven’t the foggiest clue as to how the rest of the holiday season will go.”

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    No lines or crowds at my computer and I bought a new laptop.

  4. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Any reports about church attendance on Thanksgiving Day ???

  5. john personna says:

    @11B40:

    I was with the #thanksgivingka crowd this year. A new experience for me.

  6. Jane2 says:

    @11B40: Why would people go to church on Thanksgiving Day? It’s a cultural, not a religious holiday.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @11B40:
    FYI…you don’t need a church and mythical beings and superstitions to give Thanks.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    While you were shopping…racism ended.
    https://mobile.twitter.com/GOP/status/407161769069924352

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    the decision by some retailers to open on Thanksgiving Day

    Wow. Dude. These retailers seriously need to get into the spirit of the season.

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    This arguably stands as a powerful counterargument to those who spent much of the month of November arguing that there was something horribly wrong with the entire idea of being open for all or part of the day on Thanksgiving.

    So again, just to be clear, talking about the fact that many Americans are poor, sick and hungry on Thanksgiving violates the spirit of the season…but forcing people to work and to miss the holiday with their family and friends doesn’t?

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    Hmmm…why the moderation queue for this post?:

    So again, just to be clear, talking about the fact that many Americans are poor, sick and hungry on Thanksgiving violates the spirit of the season…but forcing people to work and to miss the holiday with their family and friends doesn’t?

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  13. Ron Beasley says:

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  14. Gustopher says:

    This arguably stands as a powerful counterargument to those who spent much of the month of November arguing that there was something horribly wrong with the entire idea of being open for all or part of the day on Thanksgiving.

    If you measure right and wrong in dollars and cents, you will also find that child labor is good, and that paying women 30% less than a man is good.

    As a rule of thumb, people shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs* and taking part in a major national holiday along with their families, etc. I suppose it’s ok because most people in retail are lower middle class, and they don’t count.

    * we make an exception for those working in essential jobs: hospital workers, first responders, Chinese restaurants, etc.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    “Initial reports indicate that opening on Thanksgiving was good for business.” Still to be proven (or even considered) is whether opening on Thanksgiving was good for American or for it’s people.

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    Nonetheless, if it does turn out that there was an increase in sales over the same two day period from last year, then that would seem to be an indication that the decision to open on Thanksgiving did contribute at least in some respect to the increased sales. This arguably stands as a powerful counterargument to those who spent much of the month of November arguing that there was something horribly wrong with the entire idea of being open for all or part of the day on Thanksgiving.

    Um, not it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. Because the reason people object to opening stores on Thanksgiving isn’t that they don’t think stores will make money, it’s because they think it’s inhumane and cruel to force people to work on a day that should be devoted to time with family and friends.

    This is rather like writing “the fact that pimps make a lot of money stands as a powerful counterargument to those who claim there is something horribly wrong with trafficking women into prostitution”….

  17. Rafer Janders says:

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    Your ideas intrigue me. Is there perhaps a newsletter you publish that I can subscribe to?

  18. Yolo Contendere says:

    Interestingly, CNN Money is calling the 2.3% increase “modest”, and “a slow start”. And apparently sales for the weekend were actually DOWN 4%. Obviously the nutcases who gotta have that deal were there on Thanksgiving evening. Hell, they would have been there at 6am Thanksgiving morning. But shifting sales from one day to another doesn’t actually increase sales in the aggregate. Given the overall decline, I would say an even stronger argument could be made that opening on Thanksgiving turned more people off all together. Thus, it was actually a very poor decision to open early.

  19. Rafer Janders says:

    This arguably stands as a powerful counterargument to those who spent much of the month of November arguing that there was something horribly wrong with the entire idea of being open for all or part of the day on Thanksgiving. In the end, the best way to evaluate that claim is to see whether the decision to open an extra day or half day ended up bringing in more sales, and whether the revenue generated justifies the additional expenses involved in opening for that period.

    Or, you know, you could evaluate that claim by seeing whether the decision to open an extra day or half day ended up causing family members to have to spend Thanksgiving without their beloved fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandsons, grand-daughters or friends, and whether the revenue generated justifies the human cost of increased loneliness, sadness and resentment involved in opening for that period.

    If, that is, you’re not a sociopath. If you are, then dollars and cents is how you measure it. All the while you act high and mighty about “the spirit of the season” when someone dares to point out that you’re actually a monstrous hypocrite.

  20. JohnMcC says:

    From the NY Times web site this morning:

    “Gloomy Numbers for Shopping’s Big Weekend”

    “Over the course of the weekend, consumers spent about
    $1.7 billion less on holiday shopping than they did the
    year before, according to the National Retail Federation”

    Submitted without comment.

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    The first spending decline on a Black Friday weekend since 2009 reinforced projections for a lackluster holiday, increasing chances retailers will extend the deep discounts already hurting their profit margins.

    Purchases at stores and websites fell 2.9 percent to $57.4 billion during the four days beginning with the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. While 141 million people shopped, about 2 million more than last year, the average consumer’s spending dropped 3.9 percent to $407.02, the survey showed.

    http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-02/black-friday-weekend-spending-drop-pressures-u-s-stores.html

    Initial reports aren’t worth the electrons they’re written in.

  22. Blue Galangal says:

    @Ben Wolf: It would be nice to think that people just boycotted the darn “open on Thanksgiving” stores… and then decided it was actually fun to stay home and watch Harry Potter all weekend on ABC Family instead of fighting crowds or getting shot over a parking space.

    But I might be an optimist.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    The hotel I was staying at was supposedly jam-full of people wanting to be at the mall at 8 AM on Black Friday. I suspect most of them were from out-of-town (say, 2 hrs drive away) rather than the locals.

    It still made very little sense considering the hotel room rates, so I assume it was done for fun. I stayed as far away as possible from everything and went to my doctor’s instead.