Gray Thursday

Maybe you haven’t heard of Gray Thursday, but you definitely know its other name: Thanksgiving Day. Over the past few years, a growing number of retailers have opened for all or part of Thanksgiving Day in an attempt to lure in shoppers who want a head start on Black Friday deals.

Whether your store should open on Thanksgiving, run an online Gray Thursday promotion, or just take the day off depends on your staffing, personal plans for the holiday, competition, and—of course—your customers’ preferences.

Ask yourself the five questions below to determine the best plan of action for your retail business.


1. Can you staff your store on Thanksgiving Day?

Unless you made it clear a long time ago that you plan to keep your brick-and-mortar store or online shop open on Thanksgiving, any employees you have may move from content to disgruntled if you force them to work on Thanksgiving Day. At this late date, most people who travel for the holiday have already booked their flights, and it’s not good management to expect your employees to forfeit their airfare or cancel plans.

Employees who are available to work on Thanksgiving will almost certainly expect holiday pay. Before you decide to staff your shop on Thanksgiving or any holiday, you’ll need to do the math and decide if the potential revenue justifies the additional payroll expense.

[bctt tweet=”Staffing your store on #GrayThursday? Your employees may shift from content to disgruntled.” username=”hostgator”]


2. What are your personal Thanksgiving plans?

If you’re a solopreneur, you may feel like Thanksgiving is no different from any other day in terms of staffing, and you may be perfectly happy to run your shop and offer real-time customer service. Still, think carefully before you commit. Checking in on your shop during holiday travel layovers is a reasonable plan… unless your phone battery dies and you can’t find an open charging port. And answering email questions from shoppers is a snap… unless you’re also cooking a turkey and visiting with your friends and family.

If it’s up to you and you alone to keep the store open, you’ll need to balance the potential sales against the potential brand damage if you can’t provide immediate customer service, as well as the prospect of conflict with friends and family who don’t like sharing your attention with your business.


3. Will your competition be open on Thanksgiving?

The beauty of online shops is their always-open nature, and you can easily post a notice that regular customer service and shipping hours will resume after Thanksgiving Day. However, if your strongest competitors are already advertising their Gray Thursday sales events, you may want to consider running a promotion, too. Or not, because it turns out that most shoppers really don’t like it when stores commercialize Thanksgiving. Speaking of which…


4. Will a Gray Thursday promotion alienate your customers?

Gray Thursday store hours are a recent development, and one that’s by and large unpopular with shoppers. A recent survey by found that 73% of consumers think stores push holiday shopping too hard and too early in the year. Slightly more than half said “around Thanksgiving” is the earliest time frame when holiday promotions and displays should appear. Fifty-four percent of the same group of shoppers also said they typically don’t finish their holiday shopping until December, which raises the question of whether an extra few hours on Thanksgiving makes a difference to most consumers or to small- and medium-sized businesses.

[bctt tweet=”Planning to run #GrayThursday promotions? Beware of consumer backlash.” username=”hostgator”]

Because of the backlash, some merchants and malls are using their decision to close on Thanksgiving as a marketing tool to cast their businesses as traditional, pro-employee, and pro-family time. A spokeswoman for Mall of America described the shopping center’s decision to close on Thanksgiving this year as giving the day back to workers and families. Before you decide to close or stay open, think about how your customers will view your decision.


5. Do your customers expect your store to be open on Thanksgiving?

There are practical customer issues to consider, too. Do your customers expect you to be open for business on Thanksgiving? If not, they may assume you’re closed and go elsewhere, even if they do indulge in some Gray Thursday shopping. If you sell something people might need at the last minute, like groceries or alcohol, it may be worth staying open. Otherwise, you need to weigh the costs of staying open and the costs of promoting your Thanksgiving Day hours against the potential for lower-than-usual sales.

If your online shop is mobile-optimized and has a customer base of under-35s, regular support and staffing on Thanksgiving might make financial sense. These shoppers are more interested in mobile shopping and less offended by early holiday promotions than older shoppers, according to the survey. These customers may visit your shop on their phones on Thanksgiving Day as a way to alleviate boredom, tune out dinner-table conversation they don’t like, or get a jump on their holiday shopping.

[bctt tweet=”If your customers are #millennial aged, make sure your #GrayThursday promotion is mobile-friendly.” username=”hostgator”]


Your Gray Thursday pro and con list

There’s a lot that goes into this decision, so let’s recap. The main issues are:

  • Will your target customers shop your store on Thanksgiving?
    • If so, will they spend enough to offset your higher employee and promotional costs and the value of your own holiday time?
    • If not, might they be turned off by what they see as “Christmas creep?”
  • Will you have time to monitor your shop or will you be focused on travel and family?
  • Will your customers expect same-day customer service?
  • Finally, will your support services, like your web host and your payment service provider, be available to give you real-time assistance if there’s an issue with your site or online checkout? (In case you’re wondering, the HostGator support team will be available 24 hours on Thanksgiving Day, just as we are every other day of the year.)

Just as there’s no single right answer for major retail chains and malls, there’s no one answer for all small businesses. The decision to open or close for Thanksgiving is ultimately up to what you and your customers want.


We want to hear from you! What is your plan for Gray Thursday this year?