And by “old school,” I mean closed. Bucking a trend in recent years that has pushed Black Friday back into Thanksgiving Thursday, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota has decided to stick to the calendar. They will shut down operations on the holiday for the first time in five years — albeit with a caveat:
The Friday after Thanksgiving had long served as the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season. But over the past several years, Thanksgiving has become the new tradition as malls and stores try to outdo others to get their first dibs on the shopper at a time of increasing competition from online retailers. Many major stores like Macy’s, Target and J.C. Penney have opened increasingly earlier on Thanksgiving. But the move has also been controversial as many workers have voiced complaints and signed petitions that stores are putting profits over workers’ time to be with their families.
Office supplies retailer Staples Inc. announced last month that it will close on Thanksgiving for the second year in a row, though it will offer deals on its website. High-end stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue have remained closed on that day.
Given its size and status, the Mall of America could inspire other malls and stores to follow suit. Many of the major retailers and malls have not made their plans for the Thanksgiving weekend season public.
At Mall of America, the mall opened for the first time on Thanksgiving at midnight in 2012 and then in 2013 opened at 8 p.m. For Thanksgiving in 2014 and 2015, the mall was open at 6 p.m.
The Star Tribune called it a “bold move,” but it’s also based on numbers. After researching the data, the mall and its partners thing that the longer hours didn’t actually add that much to sales, at less cost and disruption:
Last year, more than 150 of its stores opened at 6 p.m., most of them staying open through the night. But for many of the mall’s smaller specialty stores, it was a hardship to staff those hours, which was also a factor in the mall’s decision.
It remains to be seen whether the change will affect sales over the Black Friday weekend. About 400,000 people typically visit the mall during the Thursday-to-Sunday period. But officials expect the traffic to be fairly similar this year over the course of the three days instead of four.
“By closing on Thanksgiving, we’re confident we’ll still get those strong numbers throughout the Black Friday weekend,” Renslow said.
That’s certainly one aspect of the story. It’s not as if there isn’t enough time over the long Thanksgiving weekend for people to go shopping, and the first few kickoff hours are what seems to be most important. Other malls in this area found that out the hard way, as the Strib’s Kavita Kumar notes, and had to put an end to overnight shopping because so few people stuck around all night long on Thanksgiving. Rather than add to their sales, stores may have just stretched them out a few hours and incurred labor and operating costs unnecessarily.
So why did the trend stick around this long? Best guess: it became a retail arms race. If your competitor opens its doors at midnight, do you wait until 6 am, or do you open at 10 pm on Thanksgiving? No one was willing to stand down, and so escalation continued until we had all but reached the point of just opening up as usual on Thanksgiving Day. By having the Mall of America call a halt to the practice, it maintains the balance of power while dialing down the desperation just a tad. However, the one caveat in this is that the MoA doesn’t have the authority to force its tenants to stay closed. The anchor stores especially could balk and open up, but the movie theaters and the mall’s amusement park will not open, which could make for a rather dreary shopping experience.
The push to open earlier and earlier for Black Friday has always seemed self-defeating, and more than that, unnecessarily exploitive both of employees and customers. We can allow both groups one day away from the Christmas-shopping madness to spend with family and friends, can’t we?