With Thanksgiving-Night Openings, Do Retailers Risk Busting More Than Doors?
Retailers are opening earlier this holiday season, sandwiching Thanksgiving turkey between the work week and yuletide shopping as never before.
Target, Black Friday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Target is opening at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, while Sears and Walmart will open at 8 p.m.
Talk of putting the customer at the center of all marketing moves is on the lips of every CMO these days. But equally important, both for brand health and consumer engagement, as we’ve seen time and again, is keeping employees committed, happy and motivated.
The risk in alienating employees is alienating shoppers, of course, and that could have a negative impact on brand.
“To the extent that consumers relate more with employees pressed to work in stores on Thanksgiving than they do as customers who want to shop on Thanksgiving, it could have a negative impact on the brand,” said Brooks Holtom, Associate Professor of Management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, in an email. “Because I think that consumers will be quite mixed in their opinions about shopping on Thanksgiving, the potential backlash against the retailers will be muted. While they may express outrage or moral indignation, whether they go shopping or not is the truest test of how they feel.”
The reality, of course, is that U.S. employees can choose not to work for retailers that choose to open their doors early. “Because they are NOT indentured servants, they can choose to work or not work,” Holtom said. “However, there are consequences of those choices. Employers face a favorable labor market right now. Unemployment is relatively high, and many of the jobs that are being created are low-wage jobs. Competition for jobs is strong. So, even though workers prefer to be home for Thanksgiving, economic necessity compels them to work whenever requested.”
To keep employees happy, Target, for example, “should do its best to staff the store with those employees who volunteer to do so,” he said. “Offering incentive or holiday pay allows the market to work. If they don’t get enough volunteers, they may need to up the pay. While employees will have different preference functions, the employer will over time find a market clearing wage.”
In fact, “across the company, one-third of Target’s store team members are scheduled to work on Thanksgiving,” Target communications manager Molly Snyder said in an email.
“And on Friday, less than two-thirds of our team members are scheduled to work,” she said. “We’ve heard from many stores that they had more team members volunteer to work than they had available shifts. In those cases stores were asked to make back-up lists to allow for the most flexibility if team members needed to make scheduling changes.”
Target’s decision to open on Thanksgiving night wasn’t made without employee buy-in, she said. It “was carefully evaluated with our guests, team and the business in mind,” Snyder said. “Across the country, team member preferences were considered in creating our store staffing schedules.”
Georgetown’s Holtom believes that retailers like Target should make sure consumers know what they’re doing when it comes to employee relations. “If I were consulting to Target, I would encourage them to publicize all efforts to staff using volunteers. They should clearly articulate their incentive pay and project the economic benefit that will follow. They can also apologize for any perceived encroachment on the holiday,” he said.
In the meantime, Target sales-floor employees won’t be the only ones pulled from mashed potatoes and gravy this Thanksgiving. “At Target we all believe that it’s important for our team — and particularly our leaders — to be actively involved,” Snyder said. “Our senior leadership, including Jeff Jones, will spend Black Friday in stores across the country, meeting our guests, and celebrating and working together with our store teams.”
In the end, consumers will vote with their wallets this holiday shopping season. “If no one goes shopping on Thanksgiving, then retailers will not open on Thanksgiving in the future,” Holtom said.