EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Students from the project reported the following story.
RICHMOND, Va. – It’s an annual tradition right after Thanksgiving. Shoppers camp out in front of big box stores to catch the best deals on Black Friday. But this year the sales already start on Thanksgiving Day. Some retail chains will offer their deals as early as 5 and 6 p.m. on Thursday evening, including Best Buy, Toy “R” Us and Walmart.
Most large retailers in the country have announced earlier Black Friday opening hours, such as Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s, JC Penney, and h.h. gregg. The most common time is Thursday at 8 p.m. As many of the malls in Central Virginia have already followed the “midnight madness” trends during past Thanksgiving holidays, now many of their anchor stores are even moving to earlier times to compete for customers.
“We went ahead and made it an official 8 p.m. opening for Black Friday,” said Kelly Wilkes, marketing manager for Chesterfield Towne Center. “Oddly enough, a bunch of the merchants wanted to open then anyway, because they knew that the customer would be here for the big anchor stores.”
She added that Macy’s was the first of the mall’s anchor stores to notify mall management of its plan to open at 8 p.m., followed by JC Penney and Sears.
Wilkes said that she expects Chesterfield Towne Center to be filled with shoppers by midnight on Friday. “This place will be busier than a typical Saturday, which is about 25,000 shoppers,” she said. “It’s really fun and incredible to see.”
According to the National Retail Federation, around 33 million consumers in the U.S. plan to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day this year. The NRF also estimates that 140 million consumers will shop between Thursday and Sunday.
While there has been some criticism of the retailers’ earlier opening hours on social media sites, Wilkes said that there will be many people shopping anyway. Most anchor stores in shopping malls in Central Virginia will be open at 8 p.m. on Thursday, with many of the smaller mall stores opening at the same time or at midnight.
Katie Micklem, assistant manager at the Justice clothing store at Chesterfield Towne Center, said some of the online backlash may affect customer traffic as the mall opens. “I have heard a lot of people are protesting working on Thanksgiving, so maybe that will hinder potential 8 p.m. traffic,” she said.
While Micklem has some doubts about the early opening at 8 p.m., she thinks that “there are going to be those legit gung ho shoppers that will be waiting at the gate at 7:59 p.m.”
Wilkes is convinced that even though some consumers may be expressing concerns, there will be many customers at the mall to take advantage of the early deals.
“It’s business. We all know how important consumerism is to our economy. So I am sure they are going to take advantage of it, and I can probably see us having to go earlier. You know, we have to accommodate our shoppers,” Wilkes said. “If the shoppers come, it’s clearly what they wanted.”
“It’s just people, just people. That’s all you really remember,” said Josh Ethier, assistant manager at American Eagle at Southpark Mall in Colonial Heights, about his past experiences working in retail on Black Friday.
Ethier said Southpark will be opening at 8 p.m. on Thursday like most of the malls in Central Virginia, but he will work the later shift on Friday afternoon. He said that he is excited to be off from work on Thanksgiving and to be able to spend time with his family.
Ethier believes it is likely that retail stores will be opening even earlier next year, possibly eliminating time off for employees on the holiday altogether.
“I think next year Thanksgiving is just going to be gone,” he said. “We already pass over it. Every mall and every store is playing Christmas music. Christmas is everywhere. We are already giving up Thanksgiving as a society.”
Alan Brown, key holder at Cole Haan in Stony Point Fashion Park, also thinks that Thanksgiving is fading away.
“It is ridiculous. I think we have lost the meaning of Thanksgiving over the years,” Brown said. “It’s not about the doorbusters or the first to be in line. Use the time to be with the ones you love, because life is short, people!”
Micklem and Brown said that if all goes well this year during the 8 p.m. to midnight time period, malls are likely to open by at least the same time next year, if not earlier. Both also said that the retailers are interested in making money, and they will continue to keep their bottom line in mind.
“Black Friday is really a staple for corporations. It’s a staple for the consumer, too,” said Ethier. “It can make or break your year, basically.”
By Samantha Morgan (Special to WTVR.com)
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.