The carved grins had yet to wither on the pumpkins before "Silver Bells" was heard at malls around the country. Merchants rushed to capture every precious minute of holiday shopping that officially starts on Black Friday, Nov. 31. So what happened to Thanksgiving?
Granted the economic indicators are dismal for holiday sales this year, let alone the consumer's general disposition to spend money. It's the consumer's mood that is being ignored by many merchants. There is no excuse to rush Christmas inventory even before Macy's kicks off its big parade. It all smacks of crass commercialism that is layered with the spirit of giving and this year topped off with patriotic themes. As much as the nation wants to jump-start the economy, retailers across all sectors are sending the wrong message at a time when the consumer is already shell-shocked by recent tragic events.
What's needed is a little respite and not the hustle to buy. In this sense Thanksgiving should be the connecting bridge between Halloween, the second biggest holiday-decorating event behind Christmas, and the hectic and often stressful Christmas shopping season.
Consider what Thanksgiving represents. It's an observance of peace, family togetherness and friendship, solid moral values, history and patriotism. Most of all it's a celebration of the harvest and its produce -- the cornucopia of good food. Here food retailers stand to reap this year's holiday harvest.
According to a new study by ValuPage.com, a division of Catalina Marketing, Thanksgiving is the second most expensive grocery-shopping holiday behind Christmas/Hanukkah. More than a third, 35%, of Americans ring up the highest grocery bill for Thanksgiving entertaining, the study indicated. The average grocery bill for Thanksgiving dinner will be $118 and younger consumers, those 18 to 24 years old, will spend even more, $140, the survey said.
Phil Lempert, the "supermarket guru,"said, "Thanksgiving dinner is an important part of our culture and history, so it's not surprising that, even in the face of a poor economy, cost-cutting tactics that would alter the quality of the family tradition are a last resort." According to a feature story on holiday promotions, Page 27, credit will go to those food retailers who know how to structure their Thanksgiving merchandising programs in a way that is sensitive to their consumers' emotional and shopping needs. "It's the basic American values that people embrace," said George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants.
George Tsokolas, director of retail strategies, Andersen Consulting, said the renewed patriotism will be reflected in what consumers buy. "This is the year of the apple pie. People want to demonstrate their support for this country. Apple pie will be the big win." Demand should be strong for pumpkin pie, too, he said.
And many retailers, Kmart Supercenters for example, will not forget the main staple. The Thanksgiving turkey has become the lure to get shoppers into the stores. Kmart proclaims it will match the lowest priced Turkey in town. Just one of many such deals.