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Thanksgiving Thursday: The new Black Friday

People make purchases at the Black Thursday sale at the Toys 'R' Us store in Times Square November 22, 2012 in New York City.

Wal-Mart this week was the latest big retailer to get into the arms race to start Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day. The world’s biggest retailer announced Tuesday that it will offer its first set of doorbusters specials at 6 p.m., the same time as Best Buy and an hour later than Toys R Us’s 5 p.m. open. Target will open at 8 p.m. Macy's, J.C. Penney and Kohl's will offer Thursday hours for the first time. And Kmart will open at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning and remain open for 41 hours straight. These early sales have led to a backlash from people saying the retail workers should be able to spend the holiday with their family. 

Despite backlash from the public (and likely some employees who'd rather spend Thanksgiving with family), the early openings are in response to the holiday shopping season being cut six-days short this year and low rates of consumer confidence. Host of Marketplace Money, Carmen Wong Ulrich weighs in on the trend.

Are you working on Thanksgiving? Are you happy about it? Tell us your story on our Public Insight Network

On the backlash about retail workers having to sacrifice their own holiday:

“Where did the holiday go? Now, it’s all about work. But I have to say this: This is a huge time for a lot of folks who are out of work to make money that can actually make their holiday.”

On saving big bucks by shopping early:

“This is the illusion. It’s mostly about supply and demand … If you really want the most substantial discounts for your holiday shopping, especially for electronics and big ticket items, you’re much better off waiting for as close to the holiday.”

On the new trend of extended holiday shopping hours:

“Basically, [retailers] can capture more shoppers. Also, retailers are trying to balance the web here. It’s a real catch-up game because every year those online shopping numbers get higher and higher.”

Marketplace asked listeners to share their stories about working on Thanksgiving. We've heard from retail workers, of course, but also doctors, help-line attendants and even a pet-store employee (the store itself will be closed but someone still needs to feed the animals)

Chaim Casper is a florist in Miami Beach, FL. He told us he loves working holidays: "You can't beat the feeling you get when you deliver flowers to an elderly shut in (who thought no one remembered her) and her face lights up!" 

Teri Gibbons in Rochester, MN, is less happy to be working sales at Macy’s. She had requested the day off and is hosting a family dinner, but was told she had to come in anyway – at no extra pay. “I expect Black Friday in retail but pushing it up each year is ridiculous,” Teri said. “Will we now be open Christmas to accept returns?” 

Most people working the holiday will get paid extra. Wal-mart’s estimated 1 million holiday workers will get a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, an extra day’s pay and 25 percent off a future shopping trip.

With the sluggish economy, people in our audience such as Maria Roesler-Lundy welcome the chance to make some extra money. “I have worked every Thanksgiving since 2008,” Roesler-Lundy says. “I get double-pay and on a tight budget that really makes a difference.” 

John Stern in Fargo, ND, owns a small men's clothing store with his brother, the 4th generation of family ownership. “We were taught not to ask our employees to do anything we were not willing to do ourselves. We are not willing to work on Thanksgiving,” he said. “I can't imagine the CEO of Kmart starting an 8 hour shift at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.” 

The big box stores that are opening early on Thanksgiving have taken a lot of flak on social media for forcing their employees to work on the holiday. But it’s clear there’s a demand for doorbuster sales on Turkey Day or the stores wouldn’t do it. And it may have the additional benefit of reducing the annual mobs of shoppers camped outside stores before dawn on Black Friday. That’s something everyone can be thankful for.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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