While some retailers are trying to outdo each other on the amount of hours they are open during Thanksgiving Day, others are taking a moral high ground and putting family over sales.

REI’s decision to close on Black Friday came with an announcement that almost shames other retailers with chief executive officer Jerry Stritzke saying, “We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles.” REI turned the decision into an entire marketing campaign featuring a special Web site with a countdown clock. The specialty outdoors company instead wants its employees and customers who buy their goods to spend the day outdoors, calling the occasion #OptOut.

“I think REI saw an opportunity to capitalize on it and move in the opposite direction,” said Andrew Billings, a retail consultant at North Highland. “Every time a retailer starts to make a major move and push store openings earlier and earlier, you’ll hear the outcry.”

Black Friday could be more hype and marketing than real sales, anyway. Sarah Quinlan, group head of market insights at MasterCard, said that Black Friday actually wasn’t the biggest day of the season. She said at the WWD CEO Summit last week that the Saturday after Thanksgiving is the season’s No. 1 shopping day, not Black Friday. That could also explain why many companies are opting not to wait for Black Friday and launching sales now, even earlier than last year.

Not waiting for Black Friday, Wal-Mart kicked off its holiday sales on Sunday. Amazon debuted its Black Friday sales on Monday with a dedicated Black Friday Deals Store for Prime members. Cabela’s has said that it will offer Black Friday deals online during the entire month of November. A Black Friday deal for Sam’s Club was leaked and posted by the Web site i4u.com with a promotion that will actually happen two Saturdays before Black Friday.

Apparently these sales don’t always prompt shoppers to get out early. An American Express survey found 62 percent of consumers say that by the time Cyber Monday rolls around, they will have completed half or less of their shopping. 67 percent of shoppers combine online and in-store shopping and 41 percent will do most of their shopping online.

As a result, this could be the year Black Friday loses its impact as sales get stretched throughout the month. That leaves the actual shopping day of Thanksgiving as the differentiator.

“I think it depends upon which segment of retail you are. The big box will continue to be open the most because of the heavy promotions,” said Billings.

Like REI, DSW chose to appeal to both its customers and employees by deciding to stay closed on Thanksgiving. The discount shoe chain used a similar tone as REI when it publicized its decision, saying, ”While many retail stores will be open for business on Thanksgiving Day, this year we decided to continue the tradition of keeping ours closed. Family time is extremely important to us, and we want our associates to enjoy the holiday with their loved ones,” the retailer said.

Other big chains that are staying closed on Thanksgiving include TJ Maxx, GameStop, Von Maur and Costco.

They seem to be in the minority, though. Macy’s and Target will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, while outlet centers like Woodbury Common also opening on the day. Woodbury Common is opening at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving and not closing until Black Friday at 10 p.m., while Tanger Outlets will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Shopping malls with anchor tenants that plan to open on Thanksgiving will open the entire mall, but there won’t be a requirement that every store in the mall open. Wal-Mart unapologetically says it has always been open on Thanksgiving and won’t be shamed into changing its approach. The shopping specials won’t begin until 6 p.m. that day.

The stretching of the holiday sales throughout the month dilutes the effect on Black Friday and could even diminish the gains of opening on the holiday. This year though, REI seems to be the only retailer opting out on Black Friday.

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