Commentary

Walmart Will Be Closed On Thanksgiving

In a break with recent tradition, Walmart said yesterday that all of its stores will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up. We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones,”John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S, stated   in a news release announcing that the retailer will pay out additional cash bonuses totaling about $428 million to associates. 

The bonus will be $300 for full-time hourly workers and $150 for part-time and temporary workers, with drivers, managers and assistant managers also receiving extra money next month. But it’s the closures that will likely have the bigger impact.

“The closures, affecting both Walmart and Sam's Club stores, mark a huge departure from Walmart's tradition of kicking off Black Friday in-store doorbuster sales on the Thanksgiving holiday, which falls on November 26 this year,” writes  Hayley Peterson for Business Insider.

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“Walmart typically opens its stores during regular hours on Thanksgiving and ropes off the parts devoted to Black Friday sales and merchandise until doorbuster sales kick off in the evening. Last year, Walmart launched its doorbuster sales at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. These deals typically draw huge crowds… ,” Peterson adds.

Who will follow?

“The move comes at a time when retailers are rethinking their plans for the holiday shopping season as coronavirus cases rise, prompting concerns over crowds in stores. Walmart has kept its stores open on the holiday since the late 1980s. Meanwhile, Walmart’s Sam’s Club chain, historically, has closed on that day, as it will again this year,” Parija Kavilanz writes  for CNN Business.

“Closing on Thanksgiving has been a source of tension between retailers and labor advocates in the past, especially as many retailers in recent years have opened their doors on the holiday to get a jump start on Black Friday -- generally considered the start to the year-end shopping rush. Critics have argued that workers should be at home with their families instead,” Kavilanz adds.

“With a single sentence in a Tuesday press release, I suspect Walmart Inc. has just killed a holiday shopping tradition that was badly in need of rethinking,” writes  Bloomberg Opinion columnist Sarah Halzack, who goes on to suggest that it won’t necessarily be because of warm-and-fuzzy family values.

“The economics of starting Black Friday on Thursday are making less and less sense for retailers. The pandemic and the attending change in shopping patterns have only made this clearer. Back when Black Friday first began creeping into Thanksgiving, the retail landscape looked far different. E-commerce was a smaller share of overall sales. Shopping on smartphones, in particular, was still a relatively novel behavior and often a frustrating experience -- no small thing on a day when millions of Americans are traveling,” Halzack continues.

But, as CNET’s Alexandra Garrett also points out, “online holiday sales continue to hit record highs as consumers shift their spending to phones and laptops and away from brick-and-mortar stores. In 2019, Black Friday turned out to be the second-largest online sales day, reaching $7.4 billion. Cyber Monday hit $9.4 billion.”

In addition, “Walmart has fared better than most retail outlets in the pandemic. Online sales rose 74% and same-store sales were up 10% at the end of the first quarter as Americans in lockdown turned to the nation’s biggest retailer for essentials, furniture, electronics and groceries. The company’s profits rose 4% to $3.99 billion in the same period,” The Boston Globereports.

And who wants to have to cut into profits with holiday pay to associates anyway? Halzak observes.

Indeed, “Walmart, the biggest private employer in the U.S., has hired more than 200,000 workers this year to keep up with increased consumer demand as Americans bought more groceries and other supplies while staying at home amid the coronavirus. The company employs 1.5 million people in the U.S. and 2.2 million globally, according to its website,” Kate Gibson reports  for CBS News.

One wonders if that’s about 1.5 million people who’ll be getting a jump on their Black Friday by shopping on their devices online after they polish off that last piece of pumpkin pie.

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