Just a few years ago, the idea of opening for business on Thanksgiving was seen as a desperate move by the nation’s largest retailers to bolster holiday sales as the economy sluggishly emerged from recession.
It was almost cynical in its application, pulling consumers from their food, football and family with irresistible door-buster deals that would vanish once items were sold out or the clock struck a certain hour.
But today Black Friday, the former make-or-break date for so many retailers, seems a thing of the past, a novelty from a simpler time when the turkey and stuffing was allowed to digest before the holiday shopping frenzy commenced.
This extended holiday season helps explain, in part, why the National Retail Federation forecast sales during the peak months of November and December to increase more than 4 percent this year.
According to an October report from the industry’s largest trade association, “Holiday sales on average have grown 2.9 percent over the past 10 years ... and are expected to represent approximately 19.2 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion. This would mark the first time since 2011 that holiday sales would increase more than 4 percent.”
And if new hiring and long waits at checkout lines on Thursday are any indication, local big box retailers are beginning to understand Thanksgiving now has a new tradition.
“I don’t know that it really matters whether it’s Thursday or Friday,” said Adam Dutton, store manager at the Best Buy on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.
Anthony Howard, manager of the Wal-Mart on Shallowford Road, pointed to the crowded parking lot as evidence his customers have taken to Thanksgiving Day shopping.
“It’s wide open,” he said. “They like it.”
And at the Target on Shallowford Road, customers began lining up before noon, waiting six hours, into the cold, windy twilight, to get the best deals on TVs and other products.
Glen Letterle, Target’s executive team leader for human resources and asset protection, said the extended sales season makes things easier on consumers and his employees, thinning out crowds and spreading sales over a longer duration.
Letterle said the store has hired about 30 new workers in the past two months to handle the sales load of the season.
Howard said Wal-Mart had brought on about 75 new employees this holiday season, but could have used more.
Howard said he expects this sales season to outperform recent years.
Dutton, meanwhile, said the market for electronics, particularly high-definition TVs and smartphones, is trending up and prompted Best Buy to hire between 20 and 30 seasonal workers this year.
In a sign of the times, Dutton said many of these hires are not of the typical variety.
“We do have the high school kids ... but we’ve got quite a few professionals that have a full-time job in another field that are working here part time,” he said.