Opening On Thanksgiving Has Created A 'Prisoners' Dilemma' For Retailers

Black Friday crowdsREUTERS/Andrew NellesThanksgiving Day shoppers line up to start shopping at a Target store in Chicago.

Black Friday sales declined this year, while Cyber Monday fell short of predictions.

Some executives and analysts are blaming the decline on cash-strapped consumers.

But one expert notes that retailers could be feeling the effects of opening on Thanksgiving.

“Opening on Thanksgiving has created a ‘Prisoners’ Dilemma’ for retailers,” said Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at ComScore. “No one wants to be the retailer to miss out, but the net effect could be negative.”

A “Prisoners’ Dilemma” refers to when the overall outcome is worse when both parties participate than if they didn’t.

For retailers, this means opening on Thanksgiving in a bid to get customers who are surely spending money at competitors.

But the mentality of Thanksgiving shoppers is different than it is at other times, Lipsman said. These consumers tend to go out in the evening after a family meal, and are mostly focused on “doorbusters,” such as cheap electronics and towels.

Black Friday shoppers, on the other hand, have a “shop ’til you drop” mindset and would spend most of the day hopping from store to store, without feeling time constraints like they might have the night before.

This could be leading to industry-wide declines on Black Friday weekend, Lipsman said.

Lipsman said he believes that slight declines in store traffic and sales are being offset by strong online business.

For the five-day period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, online buying from desktop computers totaled $US6.6 billion, up 24% from last year.

Lipsman said that doom-and-gloom attitudes about consumers are wrong.

“This is a case of changing consumer behaviours,” Lipsman said. “Many people are buying a few doorbusters on Thanksgiving and then supplementing by shopping online.”

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