When Retailers Open their Doors on Thanksgiving, Do They Risk Tarnishing their Brands?

Nov. 23, 2015
Chris PulligChris Pullig, Ph.D., professor and chair of the marketing department in Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business (Robert Rogers / Baylor Marketing & Communications)

Baylor University branding expert weighs in on the Thanksgiving Day retail debate

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WACO, Texas (Nov. 23, 2015) – When people choose sides on Thanksgiving, it’s usually whether to eat sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes.

But this year, a business debate has made Turkey Day headlines: whether retailers should open or close on Thanksgiving.

In the following Q&A, branding expert Chris Pullig, Ph.D., professor and chair of the marketing department in Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, shares his thoughts on the issue.

Q: From a branding standpoint, what are benefits of staying open and benefits of staying closed this Thanksgiving?

A: Brands weigh the value to the segments they serve as well as the extent to which closing aligns with the organization’s own values. The benefit to the brand can be significant.

The basic branding benefit of closing is that it may create a general liking for the brand as it is seen as consistent with family values, caring for others and less concerned about money and profit – less capitalistic, anti-consumerism, and maybe as more liberal. In staying open, stores obviously gain sales dollars, but also are seen as normal, business-minded, more capitalistic/consumerism supporting, and maybe even as more conservative.

Each of these associations will have value to some segments.

Q: Does it damage a retailer’s brand to open on Thanksgiving?

A: It might, if your competition is closed and the customer sees being closed as a desirable brand trait. Research has shown that brands may possess a human-like personality and if one retailer creates a personality that is preferred with decisions such as closing on a key holiday, then that brand could be a preferred option within the shopping category.

Q: Do you have an example of a national retailer that has leveraged its decision well?

A: The best example of how closing on these days is leveraged for the brand is with REI, the outdoor equipment and clothing retailer. REI is not opening on Thanksgiving Day. The company also is not opening on Black Friday and actually is paying its 12,000 employees to take the day off. In addition, they will not operate their ecommerce site on these days.

Many other retailers who are closing on Thanksgiving and/or Black Friday can hedge their losses with Internet sales on these days. REI is making a strong statement in encouraging employees and customers to do what they enjoy most – being outdoors. REI is leveraging the decision to close to enhance their core brand associations – outdoors, adventure, activity, caring for customers and employees. They are integrating the closing into traditional and social media campaigns such as twitter (#OptOutside). For REI, the benefits are very clear in that all they are doing enhances the brand’s image and personality.

Q: Retailers that are choosing to close seem to be advertising that they’re doing it for their employees’ and customers’ families. In your opinion, is this true? Or is it strictly a bottom-line business decision?

A: Yes, but I think retailers who are closing on these days do so for both value-based and business reasons. Most retailers would prefer to not be open on special holidays. The management teams are people with lives and families outside of work as well. They value the same things that all their employees value. However, there is a great deal of economic pressure to stay open more, earlier and longer.

Sales that occur during the holiday season are often “one-time” purchases. That is, once you buy a gift for someone, you will not buy that same gift again. You are only going to buy Dad one new ugly holiday sweater. If the store that is closed misses out on your one ugly sweater purchase, they have to wait until next year to capture that opportunity again. So, closing can be very costly. Retailers have to decide if what they will lose in sales will be offset by added value to the brand image, and worth adhering to their values.

Q: Are there any resources you suggest to help people learn which stores are open and which are closed on Thanksgiving?

A: On the website, TheBlackFriday.com, you can find a list of stores open and closed for Thanksgiving. The comments section on the list page are overwhelmingly negative. But, I am sure the stores that are open will be busy.

ABOUT CHRIS PULLIG, PH.D.

Chris Pullig, Ph.D., is professor and chair of the marketing department in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. His research and teaching is focused on consumer attitudes and decision-making with a special emphasis on three related areas: 1) how consumers evaluate brands, 2) marketing and branding in the global marketplace, and 3) ethics and the role of marketing in promoting pro-societal causes.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including entrepreneurship and accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit www.baylor.edu/business and follow on Twitter at twitter.com/Baylor_Business.

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