Want proof that retailers are nervous about the holiday shopping season? Check out the marathon schedules they're promoting in the days before Christmas.
Kohl's said earlier this month it will stay open for more than 100 hours straight for the first time, starting at 6 a.m. on Dec. 20 and closing at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24. Toys 'R' Us, as it's done for the past three years, will open for at least 87 straight hours, but for the first time, its Times Square store is in the midst of a 566-hour run that began on Dec. 1. Starting on Dec. 20, most Macy's locations will remain open until 2 a.m., while a certain number of its flagship stores like those in Manhattan, Chicago, and San Francisco will go the 24-hour route. A number of Target stores will stay open for an extra hour on Christmas Eve.
The shift to nonstop shopping echoes an earlier start to holiday sales than ever before this year, with Thanksgiving Day deals stealing thunder from Black Friday last month. It's also a reflection of retailers competing with the Internet more aggressively, which of course, never closes.
Retailers, who often get one-third of the year's sales in the fourth quarter, as in the case of Macy's, are hurting from six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year than in 2012, a problem exacerbated by tepid consumer confidence.
That means they're chasing dollars hard — "30-50% off promotions are going strong at the mall, with close to Black Friday level promotions occurring at many retailers," Citigroup analyst Oliver Chen wrote in a note this week. Many have already said margins will be severely pressured by all the discounting, Adrienne Tennant, an analyst at Janney Capital wrote in a Dec. 18 note.
So, in that context, staying open for a few extra hours makes a lot of sense, especially given that four of the 10 busiest shopping days of the quarter are those leading up to Christmas, according to ShopperTrak.
"Basically, what this is all about is if you open, you have a chance to make a sale," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group. "If you don't open, you have the chance to not make a sale, but even worse, have a sale be made by your competition. So this is all about securing your space and creating opportunities when others aren't even open."
Plus, he says, if someone's daring to venture into a store at 3 a.m., it's a lot more likely they're trying to buy something versus a daytime browser.
Elina Kazan, a spokeswoman for Macy's, said the decision is based on customer demand. Alyssa Peera, a spokeswoman for Toys 'R' Us, echoed that sentiment, saying it's more about convenience for customers.
Kazan didn't specify whether employees get a different type of overtime payment for the extra shifts, while Peera said Toys 'R' Us employees working overnight get "premium pay." The National Retail Federation estimates the retail industry hires more than 700,000 seasonal workers to work holiday hours which likely takes some of the burden off regular employees.
"In general, during our 24-hour shopping period, our staffing plans are consistent with the rest of the holiday season," Peera said in an e-mail to BuzzFeed. "Employees typically work 4- to 8-hour shifts and we add cashiers during our overnight hours, ensuring our stores are ready to assist customers for all of their gift-giving needs."
Cohen, from the NPD Group, said the most people working such hours have volunteered to do so, whether they're seasonal employees looking for more hours, or full-time workers who want to hit 40 hours a week.
He says it's a trend that will likely become more widespread in the future.
"All it takes is for one retailer to be remotely successful in it and look for others to follow," he said. "Retail is notorious for copying what others have done that has worked."