Open Or Closed On Thanksgiving? There’s A Solid Strategy Either Way

Retailers face a dilemma every year around this time: Should they keep their stores open on Thanksgiving Day in an attempt to ring up some additional sales, or close their doors to give associates a well-deserved break? Guidance from shoppers is not forthcoming, since consumers are divided when it comes to shopping on Thanksgiving. While 69% of shoppers surveyed believe retailers should be closed on the holiday, 31% of all shoppers like to holiday shop at brick-and-mortar on Thanksgiving Day, with 42% of Millennials heading to a store, followed by 34% of Gen Xers and 22% of Baby Boomers, according to data from RetailMeNot.

This year, nearly 100 retailers will remain closed on Thanksgiving, including Sam’s Club, The Home Depot, Nordstrom and Petco, according to While these stores may lose an important sales opportunity, their decision could build goodwill among customers.


“You are definitely going to see fewer sales on that week, but I think companies like REI have demonstrated that they can make it up later,” said Sucharita Kodali, VP, Principal Analyst of e-Business & Channel Strategy Professionals at Forrester in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Their expectations are maybe a little bit different, and they often make it up with better goodwill with customers.”

This year’s rosy holiday spending forecasts may be giving retailers the breathing room to sacrifice a single day of sales. The NRF is projecting that the average consumer’s holiday season purchases will increase 4.1% compared to 2017, topping $1,000. Forrester research found that the current strong economy, with healthy wage growth, low unemployment and consumer confidence at an 18-year high, could be contributing to the number of retailers choosing to stay closed during the holiday this year.

However, while many shoppers appreciate retailers that give their workers Thanksgiving Day off, opening on the holiday is unlikely to cause a public relations backlash. Plenty of shoppers will still visit stores, and companies that remain open to cater to their needs won’t be singled out in a negative light.

“It’s a personal choice about whether you go to a store or not,” said Marissa Tarleton, CMO of RetailMeNot. “I think it’s also a personal choice if a retailer wants to be open or not. I don’t think there will be negative PR associated with a store that remains open.”

‘Black Friday’ Has Stretched From A Single Day To A Two-Week Mini-Season

Ultimately, a retailer’s decision about whether to close on Thanksgiving Day may be less important than their marketing strategy for the time surrounding the holiday. Increasingly, the whole two-week period surrounding Black Friday is becoming just as important as the individual days within it, according to Tarleton. Many promotions run for a significant portion of this time frame, which gives busy customers the opportunity to shop at their convenience.

“It starts the Monday before Black Friday, and it runs through the Friday of Cyber Monday week,” said Tarleton. “The offers are mostly live during most of that two-week period of time. The reason why that’s important is that consumers don’t need to drop everything on Cyber Monday in order to capitalize on the deal; most of those deals stay alive for several days, and they have the opportunity to save over that whole period.”

The words “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are still powerful, however, and retailers should continue to include them in their marketing, according to Tarleton. There is a psychological benefit to invoking the holidays, and longer promotions can be phrased as extending Black Friday savings for shoppers’ convenience to make sure the shopping holiday remains top-of-mind with shoppers.

Retailers also can build pre-Thanksgiving messaging that hypes up the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a shopping day. This can give shoppers the chance to get their holiday shopping started, then have a full day of rest and relaxation before braving the crowds on Black Friday.

Even companies that close their brick-and-mortar stores can still push exclusive e-Commerce deals on Thanksgiving proper. Such an approach offers retailers the best of both worlds: they get the improved brand perception that comes with giving associates a day off, while giving dedicated shoppers access to the kind of deals they expect during Black Friday week.

“It’s not negative, it’s just a potential shift: if you’re interested in shopping with us, go to our web site, we’re letting our employees take the day off,” said Tarleton. “I think there’s a positive retailer message in that, and a positive customer experience with regards to providing some online exclusive deals that you wouldn’t be able to find otherwise.”

Closures Should Appeal To The Holiday Spirit

Retailers that choose to remain closed for Thanksgiving need to work that choice into their marketing to make the most of their decision. One of the key appeals is to social responsibility: remaining closed gives each employee the opportunity to spend time with his or her family, which can resonate with shoppers who are spending the holiday among their own loved ones.

“Retail brands need to market this move as an appeal to the ‘fellow humanity’ of their workers,” said Jim Fosina, CEO of Fosina Marketing Group. “They are marketing their products and services to benefit consumers in and around the holiday season, so that the choices they make during the season will bring them joy.”

Messages that are “gratitude” focused, such as offering sincere appreciation for customers, can also reach shoppers on this level. Retailers can say the one-day closing is due to their appreciation for employees, who are the ones working year-round to give shoppers a top-notch experience.

Regardless of whether a retailer remains open or closes for Thanksgiving, they should consider the benefits and choose an appropriate message. Whether attracting shoppers who want to shop on their day off or appealing to those who appreciate associates getting personal time, either approach can be part of a strong strategy that jumpstarts the busiest part of the holiday season.

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