Walmart to close on Thanksgiving

Dive Brief:

  • Walmart has decided to close all of its stores in the U.S. on Thanksgiving this year, for the first time since the late 1980s. The company also said its Sam’s Club locations will be closed on the holiday this year. Walmart said it will operate at normal hours on Wednesday, Nov. 25, while Black Friday hours “will be shared at a later date.”
  • “We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up,” John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., said in a statement. “We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones.” 
  • The company also announced a third round of cash bonuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic for store, club, distribution center and fulfillment center associates, totaling $428 million. The bonuses amount to $300 for full-time, hourly workers and $150 for part-time and temporary associates. The running total for the pandemic-related bonuses is $1.1 billion so far this year.

Dive Insight:

In years past, retailers have used the decision to close for Thanksgiving, as well as in some cases Black Friday, as a branding measure. It can create a distinction from some of the country’s largest chains that stay open on the holiday, which for more than three decades has included Walmart. In past surveys, few American say that they even want stores open on Thanksgiving.

This year, the decision for retailers is about much more than company values or even bottom lines. With COVID-19 still racing through the U.S., and some top experts predicting a potentially dire fall and winter in terms of the virus’ spread, it’s a safety issue for both customers and employees. Customers packing into stores for sales during the all-important holiday shopping weekend present a potential public health hazard. 

Walmart put the decision in the context of its employees. “Our associates have been working at an incredible pace, they’ve solved problems, and they’ve set an amazing example for others,” Furner said. 

As a retailer deemed essential, Walmart’s employees have been on the front lines of the ongoing crisis. In its announcement to close for Thanksgiving, the retailer thanked its employees and tied the decision to close to the latest round of cash bonuses for a workforce that is taking exceptional risks and managing an entirely unprecedented event. At the same time, the retailer and some of its peers, including Target and Amazon, have previously faced some criticism, activism and — in the case of Walmart and Amazon — lawsuits over their handling of employee safety amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Perhaps more complicated and difficult for Walmart and other retailers than whether to stay open on Thanksgiving will be how to manage Black Friday sales, which play an outsized role in retail marketing and sales. The crowds on Black Friday were more than double those of Thanksgiving Day last year, according to the NRF. That means the stakes are far higher in terms of both sales and potential spread of the coronavirus. Adding yet more complexity are the many unknowns around the virus’ spread over the months and weeks leading up to late November.

Retailers have undertaken numerous measures in their stores to make them safer, including traffic limits, mask requirements and additional cleaning. But those measures — which are dependent largely on store associates to enforce have never been tested on the busiest, and perhaps most chaotic, shopping day of the year.

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