The Importance of Brand Image This Thanksgiving

Categories: Marketing

Here’s the first installment of Thoughtful Thursdays, where I’ll be discussing marketing and other business-related topics. Happy Thanksgiving!

In the past few years we’ve seen an increasing amount of negative press against businesses choosing to open their stores on Thanksgiving. But why has it been making such a stink? The differences in opinions (whether you’re for, against, or neutral on stores opening today) are a result of conflicting perceptions between consumers’ and businesses’ relationships, governed by either social or market norms.

Essentially, my relationship with my good friend will be governed by social norms; we go out to dinner and pay for one another because we don’t worry about whether or not the other person paid more often during a period of time.

On the other hand, when market norms govern, the relationship between two parties is almost strictly tit for tat with no lax as there would be in a relationship governed by social norms. If I pay my credit card bill late, my credit card company will charge me an additional late fee. There is no room for me to have this fee removed, even if I give them an excuse that I was going through some personal issues and forgot to pay (I know there are companies that will forgive you once or twice, but let’s assume this company is the grumpy, no BS type).

As a bit of a digression, I highly recommend reading through Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. There are a lot of great concepts about consumer behavior that would be helpful for anybody to read through– no matter your expertise or industry. He’s actually got an excerpt on the particular chapter about social and market norms.

Okay, so now that we have some background info on social vs. market norms, if we apply these norms to the relationship between companies and consumers, this is how we’d expect them to react:

Social Norms Market Norms
Business “We should do what is right for our employees and give them the day off.” “We should be open and available for our customers’ convenience.”
Consumer “Companies should treat their employees right and give them the day off.” “Companies should keep their stores open so I have the option to go shopping if I want to.”

For the most part, we have two types of company opinions and two types of consumer opinions (discounting neutral consumers). Where arguments arise is when the perspectives of a particular business and a particular consumer don’t align. What we get is this:

Stores close Stores open
Consumer reaction when relationship is (perceived to be) governed by social norms “It’s great they’re letting their employees off for the holiday.”
“How dare they force their employees to work on a holiday!”
Consumer reaction when relationship is (perceived to be) governed by market norms “How dare they close their store! I’m willing to give them money to stay open!”
“It’s great that I have the option to shop, even on a holiday.”

So it’s only when the relationship between a consumer and a company are perceived to be governed by the same norm that both parties are happy with the decision. However, with 50% of Americans (give or take 2.6%) against the idea of opening stores on Thanksgiving versus 33% in favor, there is still a considerable number of people who would rather the day be spent at home with family.

I'm Going to Copyright Your Kisses. Image courtesy of wackystuff. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
Image courtesy of wackystuff. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

The underlying power of these norms seem to lie in brand image, which should be what businesses should consider when making their decision to open on Thanksgiving. With all the media that’s been coming out about stores opening or closing on Thanksgiving day, it would seem that the businesses that make it known they’re closed for the day benefit from a long-term, positive brand image. Take Costco, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstorm for example; these brands are closed today, and they’re known for something exceptional– Costco and fair employee wages, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom for great customer service.

What’s difficult to determine is whether stores that are open right now will see a negative impact on their brand image down the line. Admittedly, it’s difficult to tell since we’d have to run a survey on consumer perceptions for at least a few years– perhaps a future project about this is due.

In the end, it looks like the decision to open or close stores on Thanksgiving is based on the business’s principles: do they wish to govern their relationship with consumers on the social or market norms? For a business that wants to maintain a moral and wholesome brand image, it would be in their best efforts to govern themselves on social norms and close on Thanksgiving. Otherwise, they can go wild and open for as long as they care to.

Personally, I think that all stores should close by mid-afternoon, no later than 4pm, and should not be allowed to reopen until 6am the next morning. This tradition of opening the holiday season with deep discounts can wait until morning. Until then, people should spend the day with their family and friends, and take the time to reflect on what they’re thankful for. Thanksgiving is more than a day of feasting and waiting in line to go late-night shopping; it’s a day of recognizing and cherishing what is good about your life.

Brain poke of the day: What do you think about stores opening on Thanksgiving? Do you think there there any exceptions?

Featured Image Credit: Photo by John B. Henderson. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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