Target is pushing back against complaints that its Thanksgiving evening opening is ruining employees' holiday.
The retailer announced on Monday that its Black Friday sale will start the evening before, with doors set to open at 9 p.m. Target (TGT) is one of a number of retailers kicking things off early: Walmart (WMT), Sears (SHLD), Kmart and Toys R Us will all get the bargain surge started an hour earlier, at 8 p.m.
But Target has come in for particularly harsh criticism after a petition against the early opening at online petition site Change.org went viral. Titled "Target: Take the high road and save Thanksgiving," it has been signed by more than 228,000 users as of Friday morning.
The campaign was kicked off by Change.org user "C Renee," who identifies herself as longtime Target employee who lives in Corona, Calif. She says that Thanksgiving is the one day she has available to relax and spend time with family and friends, and pleads with Target CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel to hold off the opening until early the next morning.
In the letter/petition she asks people to sign, she writes: "A 9pm opening disgusts me and symbolizes everything that is wrong with this country. Give Thanksgiving back to families."
The Customer Is Always Right
Today, Target responded to the campaign with a post on "A Bullseye View," its official blog. The post says that the early opening plan was devised in response to feedback from customers, who said they'd prefer to shop right after Thanksgiving dinner instead of in the early hours of the morning. And it insists that employee preferences were taken into account in scheduling the Thanksgiving shifts.
"When we made the decision to open our doors at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving, the first thing we did was reach out to all of our store leaders and ask them to have discussions with their team members and seek volunteers wanting to work," wrote Tina Schiel, executive vice president for Target stores. "We had so many team members who wanted to work on Thursday that hundreds of our stores are now keeping lists of volunteers who want to work if shifts open up."
The post goes on to say that all employees working the Thanksgiving shift will receive time-and-a-half pay; that most employees will need to show up less than an hour before the opening; and that "there is no corporate policy mandating that people have to work on Thanksgiving or Black Friday."
The careful wording of that last claim seems to leave open the possibility that some store managers may indeed mandate that some employees come in to work that night, as the petition and many of its signatories claim. [Update: In an email Friday evening, C Renee -- identified as Walmart worker Casey St. Clair -- responded: "Up until a few days ago, there was a sign at my Target store listing 'blackout dates' that employees couldn't request off, and Thanksgiving was one of them. If that's not a policy mandating people work on Thanksgiving, I don't know what is." The email included a link to a photograph purporting to show holiday blackout dates posted inside a Target store.]
Money on the Table
Don't expect Target to budge on this one. Unlike Walmart, it isn't facing any kind of organized labor action on Black Friday. And if it relented and moved back the opening back to midnight or later, it would be leaving money on the table. In a blog post Thursday, NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen says that those retailers who extended their hours last year saw Black Friday weekend sales increases of up to 22%. And he points out that online sales were big on Thanksgiving last year, suggesting that traditional retailers will lose business to online competitors if they don't open their doors that day.
"If online is open, why should brick-and-mortar close just to give away those precious shopping hours to the competition?" he reasons.
In the closing line of her petition, C Renee makes it clear how she'd respond to that argument.
"The world won't end if people have [to] wait 7 more hours to buy useless junk that will be outdated in a year anyway," she says.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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