Like it or not, “Black Thanksgiving” could be here to stay, retail and fashion expert says

Black Friday crowd await a store opening in 2012

Black Friday crowd await a store opening last year

Like it or not, more major retailers have decided this year to begin the holiday shopping season earlier, on Thanksgiving Day. They also are testing consumer interest with “pre-Black Friday” offers.

While most retailers, such as Walmart, Toys R Us, Target and Best Buy, will open in the evening after many families have gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, Kmart has announced plans to open at 6 a.m. that day.

Among the reasons that companies are citing for their decision is that there are six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. John Talbott, associate director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, isn’t sure whether being open on Thanksgiving will move the needle upwards when it comes holiday sales figures.

“The Black Friday season is truly a retail arms race. Many studies indicate that the consumer has a relatively fixed level of spend for the holiday season,” Talbott noted. “Consumers spend the budget they have in the time that is available for them to do it.”

Talbott said it has been proven that holiday sales aren’t affected when the shopping season is condensed and includes fewer weekends. Even weather has little effect, although retailers will always point to this issue when they don’t make sales objectives.

“Over the last few years many stores have begun opening earlier and earlier in an effort to improve their performance during the holiday season. Despite objections from some, the reality is these efforts are reinforced by consumers attending these events and spending their money,” he said.

John Talbott, associate director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing in IU's Kelley School of Business

John Talbott, associate director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing in IU’s Kelley School of Business

“If society at large wants to change this sort of behavior, the problem can easily be solved by simply not shopping on Thanksgiving Day. This will end the experiment and chances are other retailers will not attempt it in the future.”

Talbott suspects that people who come out to shop on Thanksgiving simply are shifting their retail strategy from Black Friday. They won’t expand their shopping plans simply because of the expanded holiday weekend store hours.

But he also thinks that holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day could be here to stay.

“If shoppers vote for Kmart to be open by spending big dollars there on Thanksgiving, it is essentially a spend that is being reallocated from other retailers to Kmart,” he said. “This is likely to force a competitive response in the future so that the fixed spend of consumer dollars available are not sent in the direction of a specific retailer simply because they offer their deals to consumers earlier than others.”

“My guess is Kmart will open at 6 a.m. and stay open 41 straight hours, shoppers will buy, and next year we’ll see other retailers follow to rebalance the competitive playing field.”

This also is a busy season for Talbott, this week he and his colleagues at the Center for Education and Research released the FIndex survey, a quarterly index that measures consumer sentiment toward fashion trends in the apparel, footwear and accessory industry. It found that apparel continues to be the largest spending category for the millennial generation, particularly during the holiday shopping season.

The survey, released in partnership with  Kalypso and CollegeFashionista, also suggests that these young, fashion-conscious consumers will delay their holiday shopping to wait for discounts and sales on the part of retailers.

Consider it a public service for those who are looking for presents this holiday season for the fashionable people in their life.

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