Retailers save seat for Black Thursday

November 28, 2013
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Retailers save seat for Black Thursday
Shoppers pass Pottery Barn in Woodland Mall, which features more than 100 retailers, a movie theater, food court and four restaurants. Courtesy Woodland Mall

Black Friday is encroaching on Thanksgiving dinner in West Michigan.

Traditionally, many major big-box retailers and malls have held a firm line that Black Friday doesn’t start until midnight, keeping the chaos of America’s biggest shopping day at bay for 24 holiday hours to focus on thankfulness, family and turkey.

Demand for 8 p.m.

This year, however, many West Michigan retailers and malls will be open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving for the first time ever.

Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, RiverTown Crossings in Grandville and the Westshore Mall in Holland all plan to open Thanksgiving evening.

Why the changes? The businesses claim it’s a customer-driven decision.

“Shopper demand is what we’re hearing. That’s what we found last year in talking to the retailers,” said Terry Leshuk, marketing director at Woodland Mall.

“This is becoming a social occasion," Leshuk said. "The stores saw that, and they requested that if they’re able to, they could push it to 8 p.m., and that’s where we are."

Leshuk said about 55 percent of Woodland’s stores will be open at 8 p.m. Thursday night and another 30 percent will open at midnight.

Although a popular opinion for Black Thursday’s growth has been to spread some of the Black Friday craze around, easing some of the pressure on both shoppers and the employees working those chaotic hours, Leshuk said he hasn’t seen that as being the main reason.

“I haven’t heard that opening on Thursday will alleviate (the crowd) on Friday. That’s interesting, but none of my stores have said that,” Leshuk said. “Everybody I have spoken with has said this is because their customers are there.”

Amanda Gielczyk, marketing manager for RiverTown Crossings mall, said 59 of RiverTown’s stores — including six department stores — will open at 8 p.m. Thursday. The remaining stores will open at midnight and all will stay open until 10 p.m. Friday.

“In the end, we are here to support our retailers and, therefore, are accommodating any of our tenants who wish to open on Thanksgiving evening,” Gielczyk said. “Celebration Cinema will be open on Thanksgiving day, as is usual for movie theaters.”

While Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year in terms of people, Gielczyk said, statistics show that the Saturday before Christmas might be the best in terms of profit.

“It’s true what they say,” said Jean Ramirez, general manager of Westshore Mall. “It’s the holiday season that makes your year. The majority of the business is made in this season.”

The reason about 98 percent of Westshore’s stores will open at 8 p.m. Thursday is because they are following the lead of the mall’s three biggest stores: JCPenney, Younkers and Dunham’s Sports. Anchor stores are usually the dictators of hours, she said, and when the three announced they are opening at 8 p.m., management decided to open the whole mall.

As for Ramirez, she said she it doesn’t ruin her Thanksgiving.

“It’s all about attitude," Ramirez said. "I’m going to have a great time with my family and then I’m going to come into work, be with my work family, and we’re going to make it fun."

People shouldn’t be surprised by the growing Black Thursday trend, Ramirez said. This has been a long time coming, and it’s something she’s predicted for years. After all, Meijer and Old Navy had been doing it for a long time, she said.

“Ten years ago, I said, ‘You just wait. We’re going to be open on Thanksgiving one day,’” Ramirez said. “This is what the customers have wanted. These big companies — Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s — there are very smart people running these companies. None of these decisions were made in haste, and I’m not surprised.”

24-hour shopping

It might help that Meijer is already open 24 hours, but Black Friday weekend is still expected to be major, Meijer officials said.

Beginning at 6 a.m. Thursday, Meijer will offer a variety of deals spread throughout Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Saturday.

During the holidays, Meijer is especially focused on making the experience easier for customers, said Peter Whitsett, executive vice president of merchandising and marketing at Meijer.

“By offering our special deals beginning at 6 a.m. on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, our customers won’t have to worry about setting that alarm for the early hours of the morning and can choose how early or late they want to shop for the hottest holiday gifts," Whitsett said. "Customers continue to be very strategic, focusing on special sales and promotions.

Meijer isn’t the only retail giant that’s been ahead of the game for years.

Most of Walmart’s stores have also been open 24 hours a day since 1988, said Debbie Serr, a Walmart spokesperson.

Historically, much of the company’s Black Friday preparations are done on Thanksgiving, which is not uncommon in retail, she said.

“Each year, we work to strike the right balance between what our customers want and being competitive," Serr said. "We’ve seen that our customers like to shop early, get some sleep and come back again the next morning."

"They want to do this"

Based on the actions of West Michigan’s retailers, it appears Black Thursday is here to stay.

While customers aren’t being forced to shop on the holiday, some businesses are hoping there won’t be a backlash to the shifting hours.

“Why boycott the retailers?" Westshore’s Ramirez said. "The problem is the majority of the people don’t want to boycott. They want to do this. If customers are going to come, the stores are going to be open. It’s all customer driven. Excuse me, I should say sales driven.”

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