Customers who want to go big-box-store shopping on Thanksgiving Day may have a hard time finding a place to do it. Last week, Walmart announced it was ending its 30-year tradition of opening on Thanksgiving Day, along with its more recent tradition of giving shoppers access to its Black Friday "doorbuster" deals on Thanksgiving evening. Within a week, Target, Best Buy, and Dick's Sporting Goods had all also announced that their stores would close for Thanksgiving this year as well. 

It's easy to see why the other retail giants followed Walmart's lead. Walmart is the 900-pound gorilla of big-box retail. And its announcement of the Thanksgiving closing seemed to be met with approval by most customers, so other retailers had everything to gain by following suit. But there's a second part of Target's announcement that other retailers -- and shoppers -- should carefully note. 

When it said it would be closed on Thanksgiving, Target also said that its best deals of the year would now be available beginning in October, online as well as in stores. Target explained the change this way: "Let's face it: Historically, deal hunting and holiday shopping can mean crowded events, and this isn't a year for crowds."

That may be true, but it's equally true that the whole concept of a one-day-only sale may be headed for extinction. Consider Prime Day, Amazon's biggest sale outside of Cyber Monday. Prime "Day" is now somewhat badly named, having grown to 48 hours in 2019. Because of the pandemic and the pressures it's put on Amazon, Prime Day has been delayed from its usual July till September and its dates haven't been announced yet. But Amazon watchers are guessing it may be even longer than 48 hours this year. And then there's Cyber Monday, which Amazon called "Cyber Monday Deals Week" in 2019, and Walmart simply called "Cyber Week." Apparently, the first Monday after Thanksgiving now lasts seven days.

Sales are getting longer and longer

It's easy to see why what used to be one-day sales are getting longer and longer, and there's a lesson there for anyone selling to consumers, whether in person or online. Customers seem to have learned from Amazon and many other retailers that they can and should expect to shop at their own convenience. This is why stores (not to mention gyms) were increasingly open 24 hours a day, before the pandemic forced closures for deep cleaning. This is why e-commerce companies fret if their websites go down any time of the day or night. 

It's a delicate balance. Retailers create special sales and special sale days (or weeks) for a reason: They give customers an incentive to buy something right away rather than wait for later and perhaps never getting around to it at all. On the other hand, as customers become accustomed to having more and more control, telling them they have only 24 hours to browse a website and make their purchases could wind up annoying them. Telling them that in order to get the best deals they have to stop what they're doing and travel to a retail store for a one-day-only sale is liable to annoy them even more.

Target is certainly right that it makes no sense to bring crowds to a physical store during a pandemic that will likely last into the holiday shopping season and maybe longer. But the pandemic may just be accelerating an existing trend. Even after social distancing is behind us, we may see far fewer single sale days. And far more of the special sale periods that last a whole week or, as Target is hinting, maybe even a whole month.