Retailers such as Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Macy's will open Thanksgiving evening, while Nordstrom and Costco are among those that will close for the full holiday. Neither strategy brings a clear advantage, but the trend is firmly toward Thanksgiving openings, says Wharton marketing professor Stephen Hoch. "If you stay closed, you are not going to get enough credit from employees or the public [for doing so]. You have to be out there or run the risk that competitors might get the sale before you," he says.

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