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Western Pennsylvania shoppers prepared to bust some doors

By Thomas Olson
Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Even though she stands just 5 feet 2 inches, Tenisa Montgomery will become a door buster on Thanksgiving.

The Chalfant resident plans to join the throng of bargain hunters hitting major stores opening their doors on the holiday.

“I've been going to Black Friday sales for the last five years,” said Montgomery, 29. “So, I'll be out there Thursday.”

This year, many retailers moved up the start of holiday shopping from midnight before “Black Friday” to hours earlier on Thanksgiving Day. Macy's and Kohl's, for instance will open at 8 p.m., and Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m. Kmart will open even earlier — at 6 a.m.

The early openings pit Thanksgiving Day family traditions against shoppers' thirst for bargains that retailers use to lure them to stores at the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

Montgomery's family, for example, is moving up Thanksgiving dinner a couple of hours this year to just after church services about 1:30 p.m. Her family members alternate each year as host for as many as 50 relatives in the area.

Montgomery will cut out early to make sure she's at Macy's when doors open, then likely hit Target and Kohl's.

“That means I'll have to ask somebody to watch my kids so I can go to the store,” Montgomery said. She has a daughter, Dove, 7, and son, Mosaic, 3.

Many retailers are convinced most consumers will find such inconveniences worth it in order to get bargains. For example, when Macy's opened at midnight on Thanksgiving last year for the first time, its stores drew big crowds “just about everywhere in the country,” said spokesman Jim Sluzewski. “So this year, we decided to try an 8 (p.m.) opening.”

Competitive trend

Black Friday revenue is important to retailers. They tallied about $11.2 billion in sales in their stores that day last year, and $259 billion over the November-December holiday shopping period, according to market research firm ShopperTrak.

Holiday shopping over those two months generally accounts for between 20 percent and 40 percent of a retailer's annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

Store operators realize that in the sluggish economy, they need to do all they can to compete for shoppers' dollars.

“I wouldn't be surprised if within five years we see the majority of retailers open all day on Thanksgiving,” said David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a public relations and branding firm in Atlanta.

Earlier store openings allow retailers to reel in extra holiday shopping dollars. Retailers are responding to consumer demand — given the crowds that flocked to stores as retailers moved up openings in recent years to midnight from early Friday morning.

But for many stores, competition from online retailers is a big reason to open earlier on Thanksgiving, said Nikoleta Panteva, senior retail analyst at IBISWorld Inc., a market research firm in Los Angeles.

“Online sales can start as early as first thing Thanksgiving morning, and consumers can browse online even as they're preparing for Thanksgiving,” said Panteva.

Internet sales last November-December accounted for $42.3 billion of the overall pie, according to market researcher comScore, which projects online sales will increase 14 percent this season.

Employee perks

Stores aren't the only businesses extending openings to Thanksgiving Day. Restaurants are getting into the act.

For instance, all but one of the Capital Grille restaurants across the country will be open this Thanksgiving, including the Downtown Pittsburgh location. After “overwhelming” response from patrons of the two Capital Grille restaurants open on the holiday last year, the chain expanded the practice systemwide, said spokesman Hunter Robinson.

Most of Capital Grille's 3,800 employees will work Thanksgiving, said Robinson, but the chain did not require them to do so and will not fire anyone for declining Thanksgiving duty.

Wal-Mart requires employees to work on the holiday, as its stores will be open all day. Spokeswoman Debbie Serr said those working that day will get an extra day's pay and a catered Thanksgiving meal as well as a 25 percent discount on store purchases during the holiday season.

“Our associates are a critical component of our success throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season,” Serr said.

Richard Stickel, 27, is one of the Wal-Mart workers who will be on duty on Thursday at the retailer's store in Greensburg. A cart pusher, he worked last Thanksgiving too.

“It would be nice to spend time with my family for Thanksgiving,” said Stickel, of Greensburg. “But money is required to make a living.”

Antony Davies, associate professor of economics at Duquesne University, said retailers often pay employees overtime wages to work on holidays, which is “a great benefit” to them economically. He also noted plenty of employees in other sectors work on holidays.

“You've got people like police and power company employees and hospital employees all working on Thanksgiving,” Davies said.

Labor protest

Labor groups maintain that store and restaurant owners are exploiting workers in a tough job climate.

“Each year, it seems more and more workers have to work on Thanksgiving,” said Jordan Romanus, an organizer with Restaurant Opportunity Center of Pittsburgh, a worker-rights group on the North Side. “But they are afraid they'd be fired if they spoke up.”

Despite the shopping-day hype, there's also a Black Friday backlash among shoppers. According to Consumer Reports' Holiday Poll of some 1,500 U.S. adults, 56 percent of them do not intend to visit the mall or stores on Black Friday.

Of those spurning the stores, 70 percent said they wanted to avoid the crowds, 33 percent preferred doing something else that day, 29 percent would rather spend time with family. (Respondents could check more than one reason for not shopping.)

Some retailers are bucking the trend. Nordstrom, Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club are among those stores staying closed on the holiday.

Century III Mall even scaled back hours this year, to opening on Black Friday at 5 a.m., instead of midnight on Thanksgiving, to give workers and shoppers more family time, said Erin Liposky, a manager at the West Mifflin mall.

Donna Schiralli of Kennedy has shopped on Black Friday with her daughter for years but draws the line at Thanksgiving. She blames both retailers and shoppers for stores' holiday hours.

“They are turning Thanksgiving into just another business day,” said Schiralli, 59. “And it's the shoppers that are letting this happen. You mean you can't shop on (Black) Friday and let workers have Thanksgiving off?”

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media . He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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