- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2013

Employees of retailing giant Macy's will have a new way to observe the holiday this Thanksgiving: Watch the company’s iconic parade in the morning, eat turkey and watch football in the afternoon, go to work in the evening.

Work? On Thanksgiving?

Yep. Macy's this year is the latest Thanksgiving holdout to wave the white flag of surrender, announcing this month that, for the first time in its 155-year history, the company’s stores will all open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving evening to accommodate shoppers who can’t wait for the traditional Black Friday early morning opening.

The decision by Macy's Inc., along with recent announcements by Kohl’s Corp. and J.C. Penney Co., is another blow to the one American holiday many thought had resisted commercialization.

“For Macy's, it’s important to make this day enjoyable and convenient for everyone, as our customers search for great deals on favorite wish-list items,” said Peter Sachse, Macy's chief stores officer, in a statement.

The decision likely stems from last year’s lower-than-expected sales numbers on Black Friday, an after-effect of a still-recovering economy — as well as the head-start that other major department chains were getting.

“Obviously, we were one of the last to open [last year],” said Tony Bartlett, Penney’s executive vice president of stores. “We’re all in” this year.

Some retailers note that, because of a quirk in the calendar, Thanksgiving this year also marks the first night of Hanukkah, increasing the pressure on stores to be open for shoppers. And because Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28 this year, retailers have an abbreviated 26 shopping days until Christmas — a period when stores rack up the bulk of their profits for the year.

Whatever its impact on the spirit of the day, Randy L. Allen, a senior lecturer of management at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, believes that the new opening hour will be more convenient for early shoppers.

“Many customers do not want to awake early for Black Friday door-buster sales and are looking for a fun activity after an early dinner and the ability to take advantage of deals,” Ms. Allen said. “If Macy's did not open, they would lose the ability to attract those shoppers to their stores and would not likely see them on Black Friday, as consumers are less likely to shop on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday.”

Last year, several competing retailers opened early to capitalize on eager shoppers. Toys R Us opened at 8 p.m. Thursday, while Target opened at 9 p.m. and Wal-Mart at 10 p.m.

And, retailing scholars note, the Internet never closes.

“Part of this is growing demand on the part of customers, but a greater factor is likely the competition from online stores,” said Sandy Jap, a marketing professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “The past few years we have seen a growing number of holiday sales move online, as customers increasingly demand to be able to shop on their terms. When major retailers choose to open earlier, it puts pressure on other bricks-and-mortar retailers to follow suit.”

Online shopping has put a strain on many department stores, including Macy's, as shopping has become more convenient thanks in part to 24/7 availability, no checkout lines and fast shipping.

Although Macy's has an online retail presence, it is not nearly as lucrative as other online retailers, said Felipe Caro, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management

But the move to open Thanksgiving is not without its own symbolic and marketing costs. Carey K. Morewedge, a professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, believes that Macy's decision will hurt the company’s brand image.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that Macy's has done much to strongly associate themselves with it, sponsoring the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City,” he said. “Advertising that they are starting a sale in the evening, when most people sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner, is likely to be perceived as an attempt to commercialize and manipulate what may be the largest secular holiday in America rather than an attempt to better align themselves with it.”

Jean-Pierre Dube, a professor of marketing at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, agreed. “Shoppers are potentially ‘abandoning their families’ on a holiday to flock to crowded stores. … It is unclear how beneficial it is to have a large mass of consumers getting in their cars and driving after spending the day eating large quantities of food and drinking alcohol,” Mr. Dube said.

When reached for comment, a Macy's retail employee responded that all employees have been instructed by corporate headquarters to not give statements regarding the matter.

In many ways, Greg Fairchild, a professor of business management at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, believes that this is a time of experimentation for retailers. Pointing to increased security costs, overtime wages for workers and extra utility costs, he asked, “If you extend the selling day by one day, do you get more sales than you would had you not been open that day?”