What Happens to Their Business When REI & Other Retailers Close on Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again when retailers will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of getting a head start on Black Friday sales by opening one day early.

For the third straight year, outdoor retailer REI Co-Op is sticking with a trend it helped pioneer: closing its doors on Thanksgiving Day, processing no online sales and paying all 12,000 employees to #OptOutside with family and friends. (What’s even more novel: REI is also closed on Black Friday.)

“We are doing this again to unite people and to find common ground in the outdoors,” said CEO Jerry Stritzke. “Right now, I think people are looking for a moment to take a breath, reground themselves and come together. More than 700 organizations and nearly 8 million people have joined #OptOutside over the past two years. We could not be more thankful.”

Although Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has long been the kickoff to the holiday shopping season, many retailers have gradually pushed back their hours of operation to encroach on the family-centric Thanksgiving holiday.

The result for some has been heavy criticism for luring employees and patrons away from their families as well as holiday festivities.

More recently, chains such as H&M, TJ Maxx, Shoe Carnival and DSW have responded by shutting down on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, retailers such as Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Walmart and Target continue to open their doors to cater to deal-seeking crowds.

While the ultimate goal for retailers is likely to gain a larger share of consumers’ wallets, the potential trade-off — disgruntled employees and a leery general public — has made the decision a tough one for many companies.

But data from ShopperTrak may help take the guesswork out of the problem for companies.

For the second straight year, data from the consumer research firm indicates that the trend of opening on Thanksgiving Day has had little effect on overall holiday performance for retailers.

Instead, Shoppertrak said it appears that Thanksgiving Day openings merely redistribute traffic numbers from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Saturday and Sunday that follow.

The verdict: The research suggests that Thanksgiving Day openings may actually have an negative impact on operating costs as well as staff morale without actually expanding sales opportunities.

And for what it’s worth, closing on Thanksgiving Day appears to have been a huge marketing win for REI. The retailer has enjoyed broad acclaim — and made new fans out of thousands of new-age consumers who value corporate benevolence — for its decision to go against the grain at the potential risk of its bottom line.

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