The Mall of America’s gamble to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day last year seems to have paid off.
The nation’s biggest mall is doing it again this year, taking a prominent stand and giving the 15,000 employees who work at the mall the holiday off even while some other big-box stores and shopping centers will be open.
The Bloomington megamall also is going a step further this year by offering holiday pay on Black Friday to the 1,200 workers it directly employs. The gesture is another tool in the mall’s arsenal to improve employee retention in a tight labor market.
“We’re building on this tradition for Mall of America employees by declaring Black Friday the seventh holiday of the year,” said Jill Renslow, the mall’s senior vice president of marketing. “It’s really important for us to reward our team members. … Black Friday is a huge retail holiday. It’s the biggest day of the year for us.”
When the mall closed on Thanksgiving last year, it became a prominent example of a small-but-growing movement pushing back on stores opening on the holiday itself to get a jump start on Black Friday sales. CBL Properties, which owns and manages more than 75 shopping centers around the U.S. including Burnsville Center, also closed its malls on the holiday last year and will stick with that plan this year. CEO Stephen Lebovitz said CBL had already made the decision to stay closed last year when the Mall of America went public with its announcement.
“We just hadn’t communicated it at that point,” he said. “So when they announced it, we felt like it affirmed our decision.”
Meanwhile, outdoor retailer REI is further bucking the trend by repeating its move last year to stay closed on Black Friday itself.
Mall of America executives hope more retailers will stay closed on Thanksgiving this year. Renslow said the mall received an overwhelming amount of support for its decision not only from employees but from shoppers.
By placing a bigger emphasis on the actual Black Friday, boosted by various giveaways it had that day, she said the mall ended up having its biggest Black Friday in years and didn’t feel it lost out on any sales.
“We heard from many retailers it was the strongest Black Friday they had ever seen,” she said.
Dave Brennan, professor emeritus of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, said retailers have learned that opening on the holiday doesn’t lead to more overall sales.
“It’s just going to spread it out over another day,” he said.
He thinks some other retailers might follow Mall of America’s lead this year, especially since the Black Friday weekend has become an increasingly big online sales event and as more early sales have diluted the importance of it.
Amazon already began offering what it’s calling “Black Friday” daily deals on Wednesday. Walmart said it will start rolling back the prices of thousands of items starting this weekend through the holidays. And Target will launch its weekend holiday deals starting Nov. 11.
Despite the early sales throughout November, retailers have argued they still need to be open on Thanksgiving if their competitors are or risk losing sales. They also note that shoppers have showed up in big numbers to hit up doorbuster sales after finishing their Thanksgiving meals.
Kohls said Wednesday it will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year. Most other big-box stores such as Target, Best Buy and Walmart haven’t announced their Thanksgiving hours.
Most Twin Cities malls plan to open on Thanksgiving as they have in previous years, though most give individual stores the option. Rosedale, Southdale and Ridgedale centers all plan to stay open from 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving until midnight or 1 a.m.
Lebovitz said he hasn’t seen a lot of retailers changing their Thanksgiving plans so far this year. Most of the ones that were closed last year are planning to be closed this year and those that were open are planning to stay open.
But he said staying closed on Thanksgiving has proved to be the best decision for his company. It doesn’t cost a lot of extra money for the mall to stay open on Thanksgiving, he said. Rather, it was that employees value having that day off to spend with their families.
“From a values point of view, we feel it’s definitely the right thing,” he said. “And from a business point of view, we didn’t see any negative from not being open on Thanksgiving. In fact we see it as a positive.”
As the Mall of America experienced last year, CBL malls saw more traffic on Black Friday than in previous years when they had been open on Thanksgiving, he said.
To help make Black Friday feel even more special this year, Burnsville Center will have a DJ playing music in the mall and giving away hourly prizes.
As was the case last year, Mall of America and Burnsville Center will still give some stores, such as those with external entrances, the option to open on Thanksgiving.
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113