Why J.C. Penney Will Open Even Earlier on Thanksgiving this Year

November 13, 2015, 6:26 PM UTC
Photograph by Matthew Staver/Bloomberg/Getty

Our hopes have been dashed.

Retailers from Macy’s (M) Target, (TGT) Kohl’s (KSS), and Sears (SHLD) recently announced they were kicking off their Black Friday shopping events at the same time as last year—6 p.m. on Thanksgiving in those stores’ cases. So, we believed that the end of “Black Friday” creep was upon us.

That phenomenon has pushed up the start of Black Friday shopping madness from the crack of dawn on Friday in 2009 to opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day itself, encroaching on the most important U.S. holiday of the year. Many retailers seemed to hit a wall at 6 p.m. last year, seeing little sales upside to opening even earlier, especially considering the higher labor costs that can eat into already pressured profits.

Last year, J.C. Penney one-upped rivals by opening at 5 p.m. This year, Penney will open even earlier, at 3 p.m., giving it a three-hour lead over its most direct rivals, Macy’s, with which it co-anchors about 400 malls, and Kohl’s.

Why? Penney CEO Marvin Ellison claims his managers in the field said the retailer should. “They understood the importance of being first and the importance to make sure that we win the Thanksgiving weekend,” Ellison told Wall Street analysts on Friday.

Seemingly aware of how controversial Thanksgiving openings already are with a big chunk of the public, Ellison said that working that shift was voluntary. Penney will pay workers double time for being in stores at the moment most Americans will be at the table with their turkey.

Penney reported the highest third-quarter comparable sales growth among its peers, posting a 6.4% increase, in contrast to Macy’s dismal 3.9% decline.

The retailer is still billions of sales dollars behind where it was in 2012, before it tried to go upmarket in a since-abandoned strategy. (Three years ago, Penney opened at 6 a.m. on Friday, while rivals opened six hours earlier. It suffered from the move.)

So, being fair to workers is one consideration. But so are revenues.

“We’ve also first thought about winning versus the competition,” Ellison added.

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