But Walmart.com will remain operational and will likely benefit from the closed stores. While Walmart is marketing the announcement as a ‘thank you’ to associates, experts say closing stores on Thanksgiving will help Walmart manage crowds and simplify its holiday strategy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mass merchant Walmart Inc. announced today its stores will not be open on one of the busiest shopping days of the year—Thanksgiving. And its online store, Walmart.com, will likely be the beneficiary of this decision.

Walmart will push its super-savings online and market it as a patriotic move,” says Frank Poore, CEO of ecommerce software provider CommerceHub.

Online shopping up on Thanksgiving Day

In recent years, Walmart stores were open on Thanksgiving Day. Despite this, online shoppers in years past flocked to Walmart.com for deals. In fact, during the 2019 Cyber 5 stretch of Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving Day generated the highest total page views and number of visits for Walmart.com during this stretch, according to web measurement firm SimilarWeb Ltd.

 

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Retailers have increasingly offered early Black Friday deals online—often on Thanksgiving Day or before—and shoppers are now accustomed to those promotions, says Lauren Freedman, senior consumer insights analyst at Digital Commerce 360. Even with Walmart stores closed, shoppers will still be looking online for Walmart’s deals, she says. Walmart says it is still committed to delivering great prices all through the holiday season but declined to share specifics.

Coronavirus probably a reason

Walmart did not specifically give a reason for the change in policy, but the coronavirus pandemic likely played a large role in this decision, experts say. Walmart employees who work in its fulfillment center are not as lucky; those facilities will still be open on Thanksgiving, Walmart says.

“I would guess that COVID-19 was instrumental in this decision as retailers are challenged to know how many guests will be able to be in any given store in any given state,” Freedman says. “This is a moving target and may simplify the retailer’s shopping strategy, allowing them to focus their efforts on ecommerce.”

Plus, the Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping days are often associated with long lines and large groups of people in one place—scenarios consumers are especially avoiding now during the coronavirus pandemic. Walmart did not make an announcement about its hours on Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving.

In a note to employees, John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., wrote that Walmart is aware “holiday shopping will be different this year, and we will be managing sales events differently.” The idea to close stores originated from an associate in Texas, who suggested closing stores on Thanksgiving so associates could spend time with their families, Furner wrote.

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“We know it’s been a trying year, and you’ve stepped up. We want you to enjoy the day at home with your loved ones,” Furner wrote in the note.

“Feel-good” and focus on family

This “feel-good” sentiment of closing stores to spend time with family is one that resonates now more than ever with shoppers and will likely continue for some time, Freedman says. Other retailers will likely follow suit and also close stores on Thanksgiving, both Poore and Freedman say.

“Walmart traditionally sets the tone for other retailers,” Poore says. “I fully anticipate all other big-box stores to follow suit.”

Since 2015, outdoor merchant REI has closed its stores for both Thanksgiving and Black Friday and not accepted online payments on those days. REI still paid its 13,000 employees and encouraged them and consumers to spend time outside and “think more deliberately about their consumption habits.” The initiative has been a huge social media win: Twitter users reportedly engaged with REI’s #OptOutside hashtag 11.6 million times during its 2019 event.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are among the largest online spending days in the U.S. Adobe Analytics estimates that U.S. consumers spent $4.21 billion online during Thanksgiving 2019, and $7.43 billion online on Black Friday 2019. Adobe’s numbers are based on data from more than 1 trillion visits to more than 4,500 retail sites.

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Walmart Inc. is No. 3 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000,

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