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Target Just Made a Big Announcement, and It’s the Most Relaxing News I’ve Heard This Week

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’re planning a quick Target run on Thanksgiving, or just hoping to get early access to Black Friday sales, sorry. No can do.

Not last year, not this year, and assuming Target sticks to what it announced this week, not any year ever as long as Target (and for that matter, Thanksgiving) survives.

The reason? It’s because Target now says it’s going to make its policy of not being open on Thanksgiving during the pandemic into a perpetual policy.

Here, let’s let Target CEO Brian Cornell explain, as he did in a note to Target employees:

“What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard — one that recognizes our ability to deliver on our guests’ holiday wishes both within and well beyond store hours.

You don’t have to wonder whether this is the last Thanksgiving you’ll spend with family and friends for a while, because Thanksgiving store hours are one thing we won’t ‘get back to’ when the pandemic finally subsides.”

Now, I suppose if you’re a dedicated Black Friday shopper, this might seem like bad news, but for everyone else — and especially Target employees — I think it’s very welcome, and perhaps the most relaxing news you’ll hear all week.

To put this in context, we need to quickly examine the history of Black Friday and holiday shopping in America. I think the following five highlights will make the trend clear: 

  • 1924: Macy’s sponsors the New York City Thanksgiving Day parade. Take this as proof that even a century ago, retailers realized this was the kickoff to the biggest shopping season of the year.
  • 1939: President Franklin Roosevelt moves Thanksgiving earlier in November. Why? To add days to the Christmas shopping season during the Depression.
  • 1962: The first Target and first Walmart (then, Wal-Mart Discount City) open, in Roseville, Minnesota, and Rogers, Arkansas, respectively.
  • 1975: Retailers start referring to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday; it starts in Philadelphia, takes a few years to catch on, and supposedly refers to the big event after which retailers become profitable for the year.
  • 2005: Retailers open earlier and earlier on Black Friday in order to increase sales; eventually, the inevitable happens, and some start opening on Thanksgiving itself. 

There’s more to the history, but you get the gist: Shopping habits and markets consolidated, first around a certain part of the calendar, and then toward a smaller and smaller number of giant stores (to say nothing of the rise of digital retail). 

As each retail player made its moves to capture more of the market — for example, opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday, and eventually on Thanksgiving Day itself —  competitors were basically forced to do the same.

But then came the pandemic. Last year, most big box stores decide not to open on Thanksgiving, and to scale back on Black Friday. Target was closed, as was Walmart. 

Instead, many of them spread their holiday sales over a longer time period — as early as October in some cases. And as it turned out, they had a heck of a year. According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales during the highly unusual 2020 holiday shopping season were up 8.3 percent over 2019.

That left a big question: What happens afterward? In the post-pandemic world, would the big stores return to the chaotic mobs that Thanksgiving and early Black Friday sales once brought, along with the expanse of open hours that kept their employees away from their families?

Well, at Target anyway, you have at least part of your answer. While Target will still open at 7 a.m. local time in most cases across the country, the line stops at Thanksgiving itself.

Its big competitors like Walmart are closed this year on Thanksgiving but haven’t said anything about years to come, but it at least opens the door to reverse this entire trend.

Now, there’s one more factor to mention: It’s that in 2021, employees of stores like Target and Walmart would seem to have a lot more say, at least collectively, about whether stores should be open on traditionally closed days like Thanksgiving.

After three straight months of reports of record numbers of employees walking away from jobs that they don’t like, if I were the one making the decision whether to open or not, I think I’d find myself asking: Where, exactly, do we think we’re going to get all these employees who are eager to work on Thanksgiving itself?

I have to assume that’s part of the equation. So, no matter what kind of business you’re running, I think you can take two big lessons from this whole situation.

  • First, take the opportunity to reassess pre-pandemic traditions and processes, and figure out which ones no longer make sense.
  • Second, maybe it’s a bit more cynical, but think about the challenges you’re facing, and the changes you might have to announce — and then put the best spin possible on them.

Then, take the day off, relax, and watch to see if your competitors follow your lead. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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