Thanksgiving Day shopping is not yet on track to usurp Black Friday as the top pre-December holiday shopping day, but the industry can expect even more retailers to open earlier in coming years. The idea is to cater to shoppers aged 18-to-34 who have demonstrated an eagerness to ingest more than just turkey on the national holiday.
Even for retailers not planning to open on Thanksgiving this year, "odds are you are going to open up next year," said Chief Industry Analyst Marshal Cohen of NPD Group, in order to keep up with rivals.
Stoking competition this year are predictions of somewhat modest sales expectations for this year's holiday. "This is not the holiday season to be shown up. If you are in direct competition with three other very large retailers, you want to do your best to make it known that you are going to be open and …. opening earlier than competitors," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
"I call it 'Forever Black Friday,'" said Mr. Cohen. "Online retailers had Thanksgiving all to themselves so now [brick-and-mortar] retailers are going to make their sales days Tuesday and Wednesday" of Thanksgiving week.
More than 100 Simon Malls will open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Last year, none of its malls opened that early. Target, JC Penney, Macy's, and Kohl's are each opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Gap Inc. will have approximately 1,300 stores across its brands open at various hours on Thanksgiving day.
Pent up demand
It's only been a few years that brick-and-mortar retailers have realized shoppers are bored, particularly in the evening after a day spent inside eating Thanksgiving meals. Big upticks in online shopping on Thanksgiving have typically characterized the day and will do so again this year, according to a recent holiday predictions report released by Adobe Systems.
"Pent-up consumer demand will translate into strong year-over-year online sales growth on Thanksgiving, which is expected to break into the 'billion-dollar-day' club with online sales up 21% to $1.1 billion," the Adobe report said. Further, "If current growth rates continue, brick-and-click retailers are expected to sell more online on Thanksgiving Day than on Black Friday within the next five years."
Target, which last week launched its "My Kind of Holiday" ads that focus on friends gathering around a turkey dinner, said it's offering deals online starting Nov. 24. On Thanksgiving, all its doorbuster deals will be available online in the morning and in stores at 8 p.m.
Acknowledging that one of its target demographics, 18-to-34-year-old millennials, are influenced by social media, Target is activating its holiday campaign via Instagram for the first time, in addition to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Best Buy started its holiday blitz Oct. 27 during the World Series and its "Your Ultimate Holiday Showroom" ad featuring actor Will Arnett, which runs through December.
At Macy's, the 18-to-34-year-old age group will be targeted via shoe, handbag, jewelry and apparel promotions on Thanksgiving, the company said. Starting Nov. 21, consumers can find Thanksgiving and Black Friday specials posted on Pinterest.
Blame the millennials
Indeed, millennials most often venture out at midnight or 1 a.m. to wait in line for hours to grab flat-screen TVs and other deals when stores open at 6 a.m., said Mr. Cohen and Ms. Grannis. On Thanksgiving Day 2012, more than half of shoppers were aged 18-to-34, according to the NRF. "This is the age group that knows how to find the deals," said Ms. Grannis.
For the first time, NRF asked consumers if they plan to shop Thanksgiving Day, said Ms. Grannis. Of those 18-to-24 years old, 28% plan to shop on Turkey Day, and the total jumps to 39% for those aged 25-to-34.
A recent Accenture study found that 55% of 18-to-24 year olds and 61% of 25-to-34 year olds said they are likely to shop on Thanksgiving Day, compared with 31% of 45-to-59 year olds.
Usurp Black Friday?
Retailers, however, won't be open enough hours in the day to make Thanksgiving a meaningful sales day, said Ms. Grannis. For those opening the store at 8 p.m., a four-hour selling period won't make a huge impact on overall November sales figures. Ms. Grannis would not commit to whether Thanksgiving will become a regular-hour shopping day in the future, in part because she said the Black Friday shopping is a tradition "so ingrained in peoples' minds."
The Black Friday weekend in total makes up 15% to 20% of total holiday sales, according to the NRF, which expects total holiday sales to rise 3.9% year over year.
~ ~ ~
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how many Gap Inc. stores will be open Thanksgiving day.