Walmart bellies up to the table, takes bite out of holiday festivities with extended hours
No need to set your alarm for early bird sales this Black Friday. No need to even go to bed on Thursday night. American retail giant, Walmart has decided to open its doors at 8 p.m. this Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year, for bargain-hungry shoppers. Sears and Kmart are following suit and welcoming customers before the pumpkin pie can even be cut. What is most startling about this news is that it isn’t even startling news. The shock value of this registered at about 2 out of 10 on my Richter scale of poor PR decisions made by the retailer.
Walmart is no stranger to poor brand management. It’s widely perceived to be a “mom and pop shop killer” and the poster child for sub-par employee relations. Multiple PR pros have been hired to triage these, and many other crisis communications issues, but the company has yet to fully recoup its brand loyalty losses. Being ignorant of a cherished American holiday is just one more step in the wrong direction for Walmart.
Can consumers respect a company that prioritizes traffic over tradition?
After I heard this bit of news, I thought to myself, “What came first, Walmart or the shopper? Who is responding to whom, here?” Will shoppers show up and form lines on Thanksgiving day because that’s when the stores are opening? Or are the stores opening because they know that shoppers will show up and form lines regardless of day and time?
It’s hard to determine where to point the finger. Regardless – it’s out of control. Just a few years ago, a Walmart employee was killed when shoppers stampeded their way through the doors on Black Friday. You may think a company that faced a PR nightmare such as this might shy away from shopping situations that require crowd control and security measures. Can consumers trust a retailer that prioritizes sales over safety?
However, there is one brand we can give thanks to this year. Nordstrom department stores, known for their exceptional customer service, have this message displayed in storefront windows during the weeks leading up to Black Friday:
“We won’t be decking our halls until November 23. Why? Well we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time. From our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.”
By opposing industry trends, Nordstrom’s approach might be just what consumers are asking for. The brand has found a way to differentiate themselves and relate to its shoppers saying, “we agree, it’s too soon.” By taking this angle, Nordstrom customers can respect and trust the brand and its
Ultimately, Walmart took a risk, one that they arguably can’t afford from a public relations perspective. While they target different markets, perhaps Walmart could take a page out of Nordstrom’s PR plan and celebrate one holiday at a time. Whatever your holiday plans may be, it is my hope that the only line you wait in is for second servings and not for sales.