Walmart just announced it will close its stores on Thanksgiving this year, which falls on November 26, thus ending a major holiday tradition for many. It also announced new bonuses for its store employees. Although you might expect bargain-hunting shoppers to be displeased by the move, customers' reaction to the announcement so far seems to be overwhelmingly positive.
For the past 30 years, Walmart stores were open on Thanksgiving. Parts of the store were roped off in recent years, where there were special Black Friday "doorbuster" deals. Sometime on Thursday evening (6 p.m. in 2019), the barriers would come down and shoppers would be given access to those deeply discounted products.
This event reliably drew large crowds to Walmart stores, with some shoppers waiting for hours to get access to the Black Friday deals. But in 2020, Walmart is making different plans. While most large retailers haven't announced one way or another whether they'll open on Thanksgiving, perhaps waiting to see what course the pandemic has taken by then, Walmart has decided to make this announcement in July. At the same time, the company announced it would give a third round of cash bonuses to its store, club, distribution center, and fulfillment center employees. The bonuses are $300 for full-time workers and $150 for part-time or hourly workers, to be paid next month.
Customers support the change.
You might think, especially during an economic crisis when many people are looking to cut costs, that shoppers would be angry to lose that opportunity to get first crack at some really low prices. But most seem to be praising Walmart for giving up the chance to make a quick buck in favor of its employees' welfare. "I think it's the least they could do for these essential workers," one Massachusetts shopper told NBC News, noting that many employees in her local store had fallen ill with Covid-19.
And on Twitter, where customers often go to gripe, most seemed to support the move even if they didn't much love the company. One user tweeted his praise for the Thanksgiving closing and added that it was the first nice thing he'd ever had to say about Walmart. A user with the handle @notoriousVIDA reported that he'd once worked in retail and "you'll see the worst human-beings imaginable go out to shop on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday weekend. I'm glad workers this year will be able to stay at home with their families for the holiday."
It's easy to see why Walmart is making this announcement now. In the past few years, big retail chains that stayed open on Thanksgiving faced criticism for keeping employees away from their families on a major holiday. Many chains closed on Thanksgiving last year and Walmart's move probably signals a general shift away from the Black Friday mob scene tradition. That shift was underway even before the pandemic.
The retail sector has been distancing itself from the concept of Black Friday as a one-day (or one-day-plus-one-evening) in-store shopping event. More and more people are doing their holiday shopping online--a trend sure to be amplified by social distancing concerns. Meanwhile "Cyber Monday" has stretched to encompass an entire week or sometimes more. Walmart itself is moving aggressively into e-commerce, and is challenging Amazon for some of its market share. With online deals now rivaling in-store ones, it's hard to see why anyone would want to stand in line for hours outside a store in late November.
But before you give up on the idea of early Black Friday shopping at Walmart, it's important to note that the retail giant is hedging its bets. Though Walmart has promised to close on Thanksgiving Day, it's coyly refusing to say just yet what time it will open on Black Friday. That, of course, leaves room for the possibility that the stores could open at midnight Thanksgiving night. For everyone's sake, let's hope they don't.