Retailers Redefine the "Friday" in Black Friday

OSHA has a fact sheet for managing Black Friday sales -- that's the level of consumerism that we're now dealing with. Over the last few years, injuries and deaths at retailers have become almost commonplace in the week after Thanksgiving. This year, many retailers have decided to open the door on these massive sales early, offering customers a chance to bite, claw, and kick their way to discounted merchandise on Thanksgiving Day. God help us.

Thanksgiving comes late
One of the biggest reasons that retailers have offered for their intrusion into turkey dinner is that this year the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is shorter. Adobe released a report saying that the short season -- 27 days is the shortest we've had since 2002 -- will cost online retailers an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue.

Yesterday, Wal-Mart added its name to the growing list of companies that are going to be open on Thanksgiving. The company also announced that it plans to pay its employees more, give them free turkey, and a discount on a future purchase. That cost outlay shows how important the battle for Black Friday -- and now Thanksgiving Thursday -- sales has become to retailers.

Along with Wal-Mart, Target will be opening its doors at 8 p.m. on Thursday in an attempt to shore up its typically weak holiday sales. The company has said that the Thanksgiving opening will help consumers shop "however, whenever they want to."

Passing the bucks
Target's proclamation is a typical business reaction to challenges surrounding these sorts of retail events. When companies are put on the spot, they default to blaming customers for requiring their employees to come in during holidays or at ungodly hours. Unfortunately, the companies might be right.

Customers are sure to line up around the block for Thanksgiving sales this year, and while there's been some criticism, I can't imagine any long-term damage being done to the reputations of these companies. Macy's was one of the earliest retailers to announce its Thanksgiving opening, and analysts said that even if there's some backlash, the move was likely to help the business.

But as Stifel Nicolaus managing director Richard Jaffe pointed out to The Washington Post, it's clear what's really going on. "Retailers are trying to create a sense of urgency with customers." With consumer demand low throughout most of 2013, retailers are pulling out all the stops to try to end the year on a high note. What better way to do that than by creating a new, earlier, even bigger sale day? Who cares if it cuts into employees' time with their families? We're talking about incremental growth here.

Businesses making a stand
A few companies aren't jumping on the bandwagon. The biggest name out there is actually one of the best retailers of them all as well -- Costco . The company hasn't made a big fuss out of its stance, but its doors will remain firmly closed this Thanksgiving as its employees enjoy their holiday. The company certainly isn't hurting for sales, with October comparable-store sales up 4% in the U.S. In fact, Costco's stock has easily outperformed that of Wal-Mart, Target, and Macy's over the last 12 months.

Maybe -- just maybe -- the drive behind opening on Thanksgiving isn't to make customers happy; it's a desperate hope that a weak year can be turned into a winner with four or five extra shopping hours.

Who shops in stores, anyway?
I can't remember the last time I was tempted to suit up and stagger into a store on Black Friday. Instead, I do my holiday shopping online, where the deals are sweet and the mace is optional. The shift to online sales clearly isn't just a holiday issue, either -- it's the new face of retail. To learn about two retailers with especially good prospects, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report, "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.

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Fool contributor Andrew Marder has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Adobe Systems. It recommends and owns shares of Costco Wholesale. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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