Simon Property Group Inc. has become the target of an online petition drive urging the mall owner to rethink its decision to open most of its properties on Thanksgiving.
Locally based Simon traditionally has opened its malls to shoppers at midnight on Black Friday. But this year the bargain hunting will begin four hours earlier, at 8 p.m., as large retailers strive to get an earlier jump on holiday shopping (and capture dollars consumers might otherwise spend online).
Simon’s decision, however, isn’t sitting well with employees of stores located in Simon malls who will likely be working on Thanksgiving.
A petition started by Amber Baumgart of Green Bay, Wis., has attracted more than 18,000 signatures. Baumgart, who describes herself as a 7-year retail employee, sent a message to Simon expressing her concern about the longer hours. Her petition is posted on change.org.
“My store has a staff of 6,” she wrote. “So basically you’re asking all of us to therefore put in a 12+-hour day. Absolutely ridiculous.”
In an update to the petition, Baumgart wrote that her store, which she does not name, has since decided to push back its opening to midnight.
Most stores in Simon malls will be open for more than 24 hours, according to a memo from a mall manager in Rockaway, N.J., that’s circulating online.
The memo says that to best serve shoppers, and to keep in line with the department store hours, the mall will remain open from 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving through 10 p.m. the next day, Black Friday.
“This being a change from past seasons we wanted to provide you with enough lead time to schedule your staffs accordingly and as a friendly reminder all tenants are expected to follow the holiday schedule,” the memo said.
Simon spokesman Les Morris said the mall operator can’t force its tenants to open on Thanksgiving, though he expects most of them will.
“Our holiday schedule is designed to meet customer needs and reflect changing consumer behavior,” he said. “We feel, and the retailers feel, that extended holiday hours provide customers better access to all the great deals at the malls.”
Simon owns 158 regional malls in the United States and has interests in 325 properties, including premium outlets, around the world.
Locally, Castleton and Greenwood Park malls will open at 8 p.m., while outdoor shopping centers Clay Terrace and Hamilton Town Center will open at midnight. The Fashion Mall and Circle Center won’t open until 7 a.m. on Black Friday, said Morris, noting that there are exceptions to the 8 p.m. directive.
Macy’s, a Simon mall tenant, was the first large retail chain to announce that its stores will open at 8 p.m., starting a trend that others would follow.
Big-box retailers such as J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart all are opening at that time.
Most retailers have no choice but to follow the trend, for fear of losing out on holiday sales that already are expected to be soft, said Richard Feinberg, a Purdue University professor of consumer sciences and retailing.
He predicts retail sales this season won't be as strong as last year's, forecasting sales ranging from flat to 5 percent lower than last year, he said in a report issued in October.
Consumers spent roughly $590 billion during the 2012 holiday retail season, making up about 20 percent of annual retail sales and 35 percent of profit, according to Feinberg.
Retailers opting to open earlier simply are responding to demand, Feinberg said.
“They’re trying to grab my dollar and your dollar before someone else grabs that dollar,” he said of the earlier store openings. “There’s nothing more motivating than blockbuster sales.”
Of course, another factor is fierce competition from online shopping sites such as Amazon.com that are always open.