Apodaca: On the side of the floppers

Thanksgiving is increasingly becoming a holiday divided into two camps: shoppers vs. floppers.

I'm a flopper. After a week of muscular produce buying, and three days of virtually nonstop cooking culminating in 20 minutes of power eating, I can't wait to flop on a couch and digest the old-fashioned way: horizontally.

But I realize I'm part of a shrinking group of old-fogy traditionalists. For this Thanksgiving, a growing number of retailers will be open on Turkey Day, offering so many seductive come-ons that many will find it hard to resist abandoning the after-dinner sofa in favor of a mall or big-box store excursion.

The idea was hatched a few years ago, but this season it seems Thanksgiving Day shopping has segued from an experiment born of desperation into a permanent feature. The day reserved for a nation to give thanks is now the official kick-off for the biggest consumer-driven holiday of all.

Crass as it might seem, this development isn't really all that surprising. Retailing trends are like vampires: Not long ago the undead were the subject of a few popular teen books, then suddenly every other movie and TV show was crawling with them.

That's how it is in retailing. One or two chains try out a gimmick, and if it measures even modest success pretty soon everyone's doing it. And, like vampires, those trends are almost impossible to put back in the box.

Remember a time when we all had to pay full retail prices until the doorbuster sales started the day after Christmas? Then a few retailers started cutting prices before the holiday, and soon merchants were tripping over themselves to offer the best pre-Christmas deals.

So now we have chains that led the Thanksgiving Day trend in the past few years, including Walmart, Target and Toys R Us, announcing that they will be open even longer hours Thursday. Even retailers such as Macy's and Best Buy, which had previously waited until midnight to unlock their doors, are now planning earlier openings.

In one sense we must pity the poor retailer. Many stores, which typically rely on the Christmas season for an estimated 20% to 40% of annual sales, still haven't completely recovered from the last recession, and this year is worrisome because of the fewer-than-usual number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's understandable that they feel pressure to pull out all stops in pursuit of profits.

And their tactics, along with the slowly improving economy, appear to be helping. After several tough years, retailers are feeling a glint of optimism due to stronger-than-expected sales so far this fall. The National Retail Federation's widely followed forecast predicts a modest 3.9% uptick in overall holiday sales, compared with a 3.5% increase last year.

The NRF also expects that the number of Thanksgiving Day shoppers will grow.

"What started as a test-run for a few companies in 2010 has now turned into another shopping tradition for millions of Americans," the NRF stated in a press release. "And, considering the state of the economy this holiday season, we expect retailers will eagerly welcome bargain hunters flocking to stores and shopping online."

"It's here to stay," agreed Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing at South Coast Plaza, where three Macy's stores and Sears plan 8 p.m. openings on Thanksgiving, and another 30 stores will welcome customers at midnight.

Thanksgiving Day shoppers tend to be young and free-spirited, Downing said, recalling last year when 15,000 people showed up for the Macy's late-night opening and were treated to gourmet food trucks and a party atmosphere in the parking lot.

Youthful shoppers tend to feel less beholden to family tradition, or might be spending Thanksgiving away from their out-of-town families, Downing said.

"They don't see it as sacrilege," she said. "It's a new tradition."

Many stores at the Irvine Spectrum, Fashion Island and the Marketplace will also open early, said Stacie Ellis, the Irvine Co.'s senior director of marketing for retail.

At the Spectrum, the intent is also to make the center an entertainment destination. Some stores will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and the entire mall, minus restaurants, will be open by 11 p.m. — an hour earlier than last year. The ice rink, carousel and valet parking will be operating, and Disney is debuting a Christmas-tree light and music show.

Surprisingly, many of the 20,000 visitors between midnight and 4 a.m. last year were parents with children, who were attracted by all the activities.

"We try to make it an experience, instead of just, 'Hey, the mall's open,'" said Ellis.

So despite the desire by many of us to cling to the old ways and shun material pursuits on the day of thanks, the battle has already been lost to changing times. Our kids and grandkids will consider Thanksgiving Day shopping a normal and largely uncontroversial option. Like it or not, that's just how it is.

I'm still planning to flop after I've finished my pumpkin pie and put the china back in the cabinet. As much as I love shopping and a good sale, for just one day I'll leave it to others to tackle the mall.

More room on the couch for me.

PATRICE APODACA is a former Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She lives in Newport Beach.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World