To Shop or Not to Shop on Thanksgiving Day: The Debate Rages On

To Shop or Not to Shop on Thanksgiving Day: The Debate Rages On


In days gone by, Thanksgiving Day meant dinner with the family, football, and leftovers for days. In more recent years, that trend has shifted from family fun to mobbed retail stores and open wallets.

During a 2018 study, over half of those polled were against stores opening on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, not only do these people oppose stores remaining open on the holiday, many state that they would not shop in stores that do not offer their employees Thanksgiving and other holidays off.

That still leaves over half of Americans willing to turn the holiday into a Thanksgiving Day shopping extravaganza.

Out of the millions hitting the stores for Thanksgiving sales, it’s estimated that one out of every ten will be shopping between courses, between the turkey and the pie. The rest, about 40% of shoppers, wait until after desert to take on the crowds.

What do Employees Really Think About Working on Thanksgiving?

While most employers who require employees to work a turkey-day shift will give their workers holiday pay and more vacation days in exchange for working, you might be surprised to know: it’s not a requirement. Even though Thanksgiving is one of the 14 established holidays, only government workers and those covered under specific contract or union regulations are guaranteed to have the day off. Fortunately, only a small percentage of employers do not offer holiday pay or time off compensation for their workers.

Some people work through Thanksgiving as part of their schedules; it’s “just another day at work.” These are your local heroes, like firefighters, military, police, nurses, doctors, and other emergency or medical staff.

Other people may volunteer to work Thanksgiving, citing benefits such as extra time off and holiday pay. Because very few in management positions will be working the holiday, these people enjoy working without “Big Brother” looking over their shoulders. Employees may sign up to work Thanksgiving for personal reasons, such as the fulfillment they get in helping others or choosing to celebrate the holiday at “off-peak” times and days, earlier or later in the month. Other workers may find themselves alone on the holiday and prefer to work so they are surrounded by coworkers and customers. Some workers may work shifts for coworkers who have family obligations and small children.

Forward thinking workers often cite professional reasons to sign up to work on holidays. When it comes time for promotions and raises, workers who volunteer to work Thanksgiving Day will be more likely to be remembered by their supervisors as problem solvers and team players.

Many employees working on Thanksgiving Day report that they are in the perfect place for sales. Between their discounts and the sale prices, workers have a great chance to save money while the inventory is still fresh.

It’s one thing to volunteer for Thanksgiving hours, but another to be forced to work them. Obviously, many employees would rather have the day off to spend with family and friends. For the estimated 18% of employees working without the benefits of holiday pay or extra time off, it can be a very depressing time. Mike Weaver of Melbourne, Florida told Florida Today:

“I hated working on Thanksgiving. I would gladly have given up the extra money to have a relaxing day with my family. Unlike police or the military, it wasn’t a life or death service we were performing. Yet customers would get really nasty and fight over this stuff like we were selling a cure for cancer.”

For Consumers, the Debate Over Thanksgiving Day Shopping Rages On

Nearly 30% of Americans polled strongly opposed shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Women and baby boomers seem to be most against the practice, but surprisingly, a quarter of people who don’t support Thanksgiving Day shopping sprees will visit open stores anyway.

The reasons people give to stay out of retail stores on Thanksgiving are somewhat predictable:

  • Thanksgiving has historically been a day of rest
  • Thanksgiving should be spent with families
  • Employees shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving
  • There is no financial incentive to shop Thanksgiving Day rather than Black Friday
  • Overcrowding in stores isn’t worth the savings offered

Millennials and Generation Z, however, will be in line on Thanksgiving Day. These demographics are less likely to have families of their own and are more likely to be geographically separated from their extended families.

Thanksgiving Day shopping is very popular for those who have no family and feel lonely or isolated during the holidays. Psychologically, this demographic benefits from the feeling of belonging, having a sense of purpose and being a part of the madness of shopping on Thanksgiving.

Do You Plan to do Some Thanksgiving Shopping?

If you are one of the 34 million consumers planning to get a jump on the season by shopping on Thanksgiving Day, you certainly won’t be alone in the stores. To make the most of your shopping experience, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Plan ahead: Call your local stores and see what times they are open on Thanksgiving. Smaller stores and businesses are more likely to remain closed on Thanksgiving.
  2. Be nice: Not all employees want to work on Thanksgiving. Many are forced to put in hours on a day they would rather be spending with their families. Being patient and kind to employees will help your shopping trips run more smoothly. It’s not an employee’s fault if the stores are crowded, the lines are long, and sales products are sold out.
  3. Avoid the grocery store: Thanksgiving Day is the worst day to go shopping at the grocery store. Make sure you have everything you need for the big day ahead of time.
  4. Make it a family outing: Thanksgiving Day is traditionally a day to spend with family. If you want to cruise the sales at your favorite retail stores, make it a family venture.
  5. Go later at night: Many stores will be open late hours on Thanksgiving Day. You may be able to have the best of both worlds: a wholesome family dinner combined with late night or after-dinner shopping.

To Shop or Not to Shop on Thanksgiving

The decision to shop on Thanksgiving or not depends on each person’s perspective. Some will enjoy Black Friday savings in slightly less crowded stores while others feel Thanksgiving is a day for rest, family and reflection. Ultimately, it’s a “you do you” decision. The stores that are open will be open regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, so it’s your own choice on whether to take advantage of sales or wait until Black Friday.

If you want to shop on Thanksgiving Day but don’t want to visit retail stores, online shopping might be a great compromise. You wouldn’t be alone shopping with your keyboard; in 2018, consumers spent a billion dollars online on Thanksgiving. Stores encourage online shopping with special sales prices and Black Friday previews.

If, on the other hand, you’re ready for a little in-person Thanksgiving sale insanity, here are just a few of the stores offering Thanksgiving Day hours:

  • Walmart
  • Best Buy
  • Target
  • Walgreens
  • Sears
  • Kohls
  • Bass Pro Shops/Cabelela’s
  • Old Navy
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Gamestop
  • Dollar General
  • Family Dollar
  • Five Below
  • Rite Aid
  • JC Penney
  • Big Lots
  • Michael’s
  • Macy’s

Make sure to check opening times for these stores before heading out to gobble up Thanksgiving Day savings. Some open at 8am, while others open at 4pm or later.

The larger the store or chain, the more likely it is to be open on Thanksgiving Day. Some big stores will be observing the holiday, however, and will remain closed. A few stores that will leave their doors closed to Thanksgiving Day shoppers include:

  • Home Depot
  • Ikea
  • HomeGoods
  • Pier 1
  • Marshalls
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Nordstrom
  • Staples
  • Lowe’s
  • Office Depot

Is Thanksgiving Day shopping taboo or trend? It depends on what side of the couch you are sitting on after your feast.

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