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To Open or Close on Thanksgiving: A New Report Sheds Light on The Retail Dilemma

The frenzied holiday season is upon us as retailers begin their Black Friday sales early this year. Though there was a time when stores would allow consumers to digest their turkey before the big shopping push began, these days every day in November is fair game—for some, that even includes Thanksgiving itself.

And not all shoppers are against it. In fact, plenty are game to get the bargain hunting started as early as possible. This split opinion means retailers are all over the place when it comes to when and whether they’ll be open on the holiday.

Not only will they be open but Kmart and Bon-Ton will welcome shoppers at 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. respectively. J.C. Penney and Stage Stores will open at 2 p.m.; Kohl’s and Macy’s at 5; and Walmart, Sears and Target will open their doors at 6 p.m. on the holiday. Meanwhile, Babies R Us, Costco, HomeGoods, Burlington, Stein Mart and Von Maur will join the CBL Properties shopping centers in staying closed that day.

Weighing the Thanksgiving Day bump

So which strategy offers the bigger financial gain? Location-based app company Foursquare says expect the stores that are open on Thanksgiving to perform better than those that don’t.

“Our data shows that there is an obvious benefit to retailers that open days and even hours ahead of their competition,” the report said. While the company recognizes that retailers have to consider a lot of factors when deciding whether to be open, ultimately the report found that “considering the importance of the volume of holiday shopping for a troubled sector, it may be worth some additional strategic planning.”

The tech company analyzed two main metrics to reach this conclusion.

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First, their report compares sales in states with Blue Laws that require certain stores remain closed on the holiday to those that don’t face a restriction. Looking at the entire weekend, Foursquare found stores in states with the law saw a 23 percent increase in foot traffic in 2016 while the others enjoyed a 35 percent increase. Further, taking Thanksgiving on its own, the Blue Law retailers experienced an 85-percent decline in foot traffic compared to an average Thursday while those in non-restricted states only dropped by 22 percent.

“This indicates that overall, non-restricted states have a competitive lead, as the Thanksgiving Blue Law states never make up for the lost ground from Thanksgiving Day,” according to the report.

Second, the company found a direct correlation between how early department stores opened on the holiday and the amount of foot traffic they saw. Last year, J.C. Penney opened its doors at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Macy’s welcomed guests at 5 p.m. and Sears opened at 6 p.m. Ultimately, JCP’s foot traffic beat an average Thursday by 280 percent, Macy’s received a 120 percent boost and Sears saw a 90 percent increase. And the early opening gave JCP a 150 percent increase for the weekend compared to Macy’s 120 percent.

Judging in-store vs online

Department stores especially should take note, according to findings from Deloitte.

The consulting firm found that department stores promise to be a top destination this year. Just over half (51 percent) of respondents to the firm’s Pre-Thanksgiving Day poll plan to hit one of these big retailers during the holiday weekend. That tops the 39 percent who will head to mass merchants and 38 percent planning to shop electronics/computer stores.

Further, apparel is the go-to category for 65 percent of survey participants, ahead of electronics, which was tops for 55 percent, and toys and hobby items, which were the priority for 47 percent.

A quarter of respondents plan to shop in store on Thanksgiving. Another 28 percent will head online. The motivation for 73 percent of the two groups combined is a hunt for the best deals.

[Read about how stores are prepping for the Q4 push: Are Department Stores Stocked Up or Facing Stock Outs This Holiday?]

Nearly 80 percent of those polled plan to shop on Black Friday, online or in store. At 52 percent of total dollar expenditure, online sales are expected to outpace in-store sales for the weekend. But store traffic should be up with 70 percent of respondents planning to go to stores on Black Friday and 52 percent hitting the shops on Saturday. On the other hand, the number of consumers planning to buy online on the day after Thanksgiving dropped from 55 percent last year to 47 percent this year. Similarly, fewer shoppers will opt for e-commerce on Saturday. Only 24 percent expect to shop online versus 36 percent of those polled in 2016.

And it seems the early birds will prove to be the most lucrative. Deloitte found that those who expect to shop between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Black Friday on average have $225 budgeted while anticipated spend drops to $147 and $161, for those who’ll shop at 6 a.m. and consumers who’ll shop between 7 and 9 a.m., respectively.

“Store retailers will have shoppers’ attention with the overall excitement of the day and tradition of shopping with friends and family,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader. “That’s a tremendous opportunity to elevate the customer experience and create a strong rapport to drive sales.”

Side said retailers must ensure their sites are creative and personalized given that many shopping journeys include digital and that the in-store experience is delightful and easy.