For the first time in 30 years, Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, will be closed on Thanksgiving, the company announced this week, saying it wants to give a break to essential staff who have been working during the pandemic.
“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up. We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones,” John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S, said in a statement.
Thanksgiving shoppers will need to plan ahead, or do their last-minute purchasing elsewhere. And shoppers used to getting a jump-start on gift purchasing after the big meal will have to use other options.
Online sales, which have increased annually during the holiday period, may see a further spike this year as some shoppers avoid crowds in order to better social distance and retailers increase their investments in online deals and technology.
Walmart said it would release information about its store hours for the Friday after Thanksgiving — otherwise known as Black Friday — at a later date.
It remains to be seen how many other retailers will follow suit. For years, Walmart led the way in opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday. Some stores even opened at midnight. Others, including Walmart, were also open for holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself.
“We had an arms race and the leader in the arms race just stepped back,” said Charlie O’Shea, Walmart analyst for Moody’s.
In recent years, retailers have started stretching out their Black Friday deals and the day itself is less significant.
“Black Friday sales tend to run all week now anyway. And then you have Cyber Monday. Plenty of time to get good deals!” Ashley MacPhee, a long-term care health care worker, told NBC News in an online message.
Kmart, Kohl’s, Kroger, Macy’s, and Toys R Us did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Spokespersons for Best Buy and Target said there were no details to share yet. An Office Depot spokesman said the store would be closed Thanksgiving but hadn’t finalized all of its holiday plans. A Home Depot spokesperson said the store would be closed on Thanksgiving and open on Black Friday. Costco and Lowe’s spokespersons said their stores are always closed on Thanksgiving.
Retailers have had their usual shopping calendars and supply chains scrambled by the coronavirus. Asian suppliers typically begin shipping for the U.S. holiday season in May and June, but retailers stocked up last year as tariff increases escalated. Amazon also hasn’t released a date yet for its annual Prime Day sales, which have taken place in the middle of July.
“While Walmart has taken a very proactive approach, other retailers and shopping center operators will probably wait to see how the virus and resulting government actions will continue to impact in-store traffic before making final decisions,” said Brian Field, Senior Director at ShopperTrak, which monitors consumer foot traffic in stores.
In-store retail foot traffic is down 37 percent year over year for the weeks of July 10-18, according to the firm's latest data. That's significantly improved from an 80 percent decrease in April as measured cases first soared, but only slightly improved from one month ago, where it was down 41 percent.
Which stores will be open or not should be clearer after Labor Day, said Field.
Most shoppers were understanding and supportive of Walmart's move. They said they were grateful for the hard work that essential workers such as supermarket clerks and stockers have been doing during the pandemic at personal risk, and the employees deserve a break.
“The stores in our area have had many workers get sick over the last several months and the stores were closed for deep cleaning,” said Jocelyn, a mother of four from Massachusetts, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons.
“I think it's the least they could do for these essential workers,” she said.