Are Americans Breaking Up With Thanksgiving?

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Forbes Consulting Group’s MindSight® Holiday Study Reveals Shift in How Americans Feel About Thanksgiving; Results Indicate Small Segment of Consumers Plan to Shop on Thanksgiving Day While Majority Feels Disengaged, Unhappy 

Forbes Consulting Group, the leading market research company that directly accesses the emotional brain to discover consumers’ deep emotional reactions, today announced results from a new holiday study, revealing that the idea of a traditional Thanksgiving—at least as a sacred 12-hour stretch of family, carbs and football—is waning. At the same time more retailers seek to extend the holiday shopping season this year by opening on Thanksgiving Day.

The Forbes study findings suggest that Americans do feel differently about Thanksgiving, compared to years past. The research revealed a significant decrease in the number of people who expect to feel a sense of nurturance and connection to others over the holiday. When people focused on how they expect to feel this Thanksgiving, the strength of expectations for these emotions was reduced by as much as 20% compared to past Thanksgivings. The study also uncovered a very marked increase in people who expect that they might feel somewhat isolated and disengaged on Thanksgiving.

Also according to the study, which used the company’s proprietary applied neuroscience technology, MindSight, results show a relatively small segment (15%) of consumers, plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day this year. The study revealed that among this group of shoppers the prospect of stores opening on Thanksgiving makes them feel good. They feel an increased sense of belonging. These shoppers get a sense that the stores understand and care about their needs as harried bargain hunters and how important it is for them to save money and finish their holiday shopping effectively. Results also show that these shoppers tend to enjoy buying gifts during the holiday season (91% vs. 38% of non-Thanksgiving Day shoppers) and plan to spend more on gifts this season (median spend $500 vs. $400). These shoppers also are more likely to say their Thanksgiving fits with the traditional “Norman Rockwell” image of Thanksgiving.

However, the Forbes study also showed that 2/3 of those surveyed have absolutely no plans to shop on Thanksgiving Day. These non-shoppers have very negative emotions about stores opening – they feel disengaged and almost “afraid” of what’s become of Thanksgiving. These non-shoppers feel as if these stores and the culture are working against them, thwarting their desire to make the holiday special and meaningful for themselves and their families.

“For those shoppers who plan to shop on Thanksgiving, retailers make them feel empowered,” said David Forbes, CEO of Forbes Consulting Group. “Having the opportunity to shop on this day makes them feel powerful and productive – this is a choice they can make and another opportunity to grab a great deal. On the other hand, Americans who have no plans to shop on Thanksgiving feel disenfranchised -- even defeated with stores opening on this once ‘sacred’ holiday.”

The Risk Retailers Take
Given that so many Americans say they have no plans to shop on Thanksgiving, retailers may be "rolling the dice" by opening. Will they increase sales to those who would have already shopped on Black Friday? Will the intensified emotional connection among these shopping enthusiasts translate to better brand connection throughout the holidays – or will retailers simply spread the early spending of this group over two days? Only the sales records of the season will tell.

The potential downside is that retailers may sour their brand connection with the much larger audience. And that’s a big risk: These people didn’t just have ‘no’ emotion about Thanksgiving openings, they had very strong negative emotions. Will it be enough to turn them against certain store brands? Some stores seem to think so: Both Nordstrom and Costco, for example, have held fast to their refusal to open on Thursday.

About the Study
The 2013 research included a quantitative survey with respondents in the U.S. age 18+ and was fielded November 16-18.

About Forbes Consulting Group
Founded in 1985 and based in Lexington, Massachusetts, the Forbes Consulting Group is a strategic and innovative market research company providing clients with deeper levels of insight about emotions and motivations - and helping them gain strategic market advantage on the strength of these insights. In its 28-year history, Forbes Consulting Group has become a valued resource for Fortune 500 companies. For more information, including the opportunity to receive a demo of MindSight®, the company’s proprietary applied neuroscience technology that uncovers authentic emotional insight from consumers before the rational mind can edit responses, please contact sales(at)forbesconsulting(dot)com.

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Rebecca Metz
Metz Communications
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