For Marlee Kosanke of Shore- view, Thanksgiving has dethroned Black Friday as the best shopping day of the year.
Her family has moved turkey dinner to Wednesday. On Thursday, she, her sister and their husbands have a no-muss-or-fuss meal at a restaurant buffet around noon and then head out to shop the deals.
“It’s a slower pace on Thanksgiving than on Black Friday,” she said as she shivered in line outside Best Buy in Roseville hoping to snap up a $600 Dell laptop for $299.
“It’s not as crazy busy on Thanksgiving, so it’s easier to get the deals,” she said. “Besides, there’s no snow to go snowmobiling, and there’s no ice to go ice fishing.”
U.S. consumers were expected to spend more than $1 billion in retail stores on Thanksgiving, more than double the amount spent in 2011, according to ShopperTrak. Last year, Thanksgiving shopping took a bite out of Black Friday’s store visits, with the number of shoppers on Black Friday declining by 7 percent, according to ShopperTrak.
Most Thanksgiving Day shoppers are the same ones who used to be in line in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday. “It’s young and old, parents, kids, mom and daughter, dad and daughter. People don’t want to sit home watching the third football game,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the NPD Group.
Many of them like Tina Dyer of St. Michael would just as soon not be shopping on Thanksgiving, but she finds herself unable to resist the deals. Dyer was one of the lucky ones to nab a big-screen TV doorbuster at Target in Minnetonka on Thursday. But, she admits, “it takes away from the family getting together.”
At Best Buy in Minnetonka, CEO Hubert Joly fired up his employees at a pep rally shortly before the 5 p.m. opening. He jumped up on a counter and put his arm around the store’s manager. He thanked the employees for working on Thanksgiving.
“We know that it’s a sacrifice,” he said. “But we’re going to win.
Overall spending fell 11 percent over the Black Friday weekend in 2014, according to ShopperTrak. But stores saw promising signs for this year on Thanksgiving.
Online sales went smoothly all day, Joly said, and like the rest of the industry, Best Buy saw a lot of increased traffic from mobile devices. Last year, that surge overwhelmed the Richfield-based retailer’s website several times on Black Friday, leading the company to take it offline a couple of times. But he said the company has been working hard in the last year to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“So far so good,” he said. “You always worry of course. But we’ve been worrying for the entire year, so the team has done a great job. I’ve spent time with them. You don’t want to jinx it, but we have a great team.”
Target also saw strong preliminary sales. In a conference call with reporters, Chief Executive Brian Cornell said the Minneapolis-based retailer has seen very strong traffic in its stores as they opened, and was hearing anecdotally from stores that the lines this year were longer than last year.
Online sales were also very strong, he said.
“We’ve been watching it on an hourly basis — very strong results, probably record-breaking results,” he said.
Despite the strong preliminary results this Thanksgiving, retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy started to hedge their bets on fickle consumer spending by extending the Black Friday weekend in 2009. Stores started opening at midnight on Thanksgiving, then 10 p.m., 8 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Some consumers have protested the advance with the “Save Thanksgiving” movement, which has garnered hundreds of thousands of online signatures. This year, the movement had some success as most major retailers opened the same time as in 2014. A few such as Staples and H&M that were open on Thanksgiving last year were not this year. REI decided to close on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
But analysts such as Bill Martin at ShopperTrak think that retailers may have another reason for staying closed on Thanksgiving — they didn’t make any money on the holiday anyway.
“They may be proud not to be open, but I think it’s more of a monetary than an emotional motivation,” he said.
Even if some retailers are halting their Thanksgiving Day hours expansion, they’re making it up in other ways. Black Friday has now become Black November, as retailers entice consumers with so-called Black Friday promotions soon after Halloween.
Retail analysts expect that to continue.
“Next year we’ll start seeing more promotions before Halloween,” Cohen said. The earlier and often promotions have already affected consumers’ shopping behavior. This year, 57 percent of those celebrating the holidays had started their shopping by early November, up from 54 percent last year and 49 percent in 2008, according to the National Retail Federation.
That’s fine with Melissa Bruce of Detroit Lakes who said she shops all year long for the holidays.
“We enjoy shopping on Thanksgiving, but you can find good deals before November,” she said as she waited in line with her sister and 200 others at Rosedale Center in Roseville for J.C. Penney to open at 3 p.m. “I don’t like shopping all at once.”
Cohen expects Thanksgiving Day sales to be higher than last year’s. Despite objections from the Save Thanksgiving” movement, Cohen believes the stigma of shopping on Thanksgiving is tempered. “There’s no more guilt for shopping on Thanksgiving,” he said.
That is certainly the case with Bruce.
“My husband doesn’t like to shop, but he still joins in,” she said. “He brings us hot chocolate while we’re standing in line.”
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113