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The War on Black Friday

November 18, 2012

Black Friday has increasingly become the important unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, with retailers offering huge discounts on many items to drive traffic to their stores. One the on hand, it has been extremely effective, with huge year-over-year sales increases. On the other hand, it has led to increasingly violent behavior, with people being trampled to death, and others using pepper spray to get $2 waffle irons.

Retailers, however, have focused on the positive sales impact of Black Friday. While traditionally, Black Friday has started at midnight at the end of Thanksgiving Day, the sales increases have led to “Black Friday creep,” with some stores opening on Thursday. This year, Sears, Target, Wal-mart, Best Buy, K-mart, and Toys ‘R’ Us are among some of the large retailers planning store openings on Thursday, with most opening by 8 PM. While some stores, such as Wal-mart, opened on Thanksgiving last year, the number of stores participating and their opening times are expanding.

This move toward Thanksgiving Day openings has begun to garner some backlash, with employees and customers alike complaining about the impact on workers’ lives when they have to get to the stores early on Thanksgiving Day, potentially causing them to miss dinner with their families. The most oft-cited example of this is a change.org petition started by a California Target employee to convince Target to save its employees from working Thanksgiving.

The harsh reality of this situation is this: as long as retailers can continue to make more money by encroaching on Thanksgiving, they will continue to do so. These businesses exist for one reason: to make money. In the case of the stores mentioned above, this mandate is modified only to the extent that the businesses exist to make money for their shareholders. Why is this important? Because as long as one business is making more money by opening earlier, the other’s stockholders will be pushing for the same practices.

Now, I agree with the sentiment that these companies should not be pushing their employees to work on Thanksgiving Day, given its traditional importance to people and their families. However, an online petition is not the way to effect a change in this practice. As noted above, as long as these practices result in increased profits, companies will be driven to continue them. It is notable that the reason Wal-mart has expanded its hours is because of the popularity of the earlier opening times. Wal-mart’s busiest time was at the 10 PM opening last year, so why not push it a little more this year?

The absolute only way to change this behavior is to make these practices unprofitable. Sign a petition if you want, but don’t then go to that store on Black Friday or Thursday, and reward them with a purchase. Make sure these stores understand that requiring their employees to choose between their jobs and their families is unacceptable, and the only real way to do that is to vote with your wallet.

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From → Opinion

5 Comments
  1. I thought the stated reason to open on Thursday was somewhere along the lines that although the doors were open, the sales still didn’t start till midnight. This was supposed to eliminate the mass of humanity trying to knock each other over to get through doors that were kept locked till the clock struck 12. I might just wait for cyber Monday myself and avoid the rush.

  2. msmirastrology permalink

    I am in Canada and this is NO different from the behaviours you see on Boxing Day. The day after Christmas sales. Just insane. Tho not sure if it got to the point of anyone trampled to death here.

  3. This is why retail is a challenging job in some respects. Doesn’t mean these moves by stores should be held as bad or unjust, it’s part of the position. Profits are the goal – but it’s only done by providing products and services. Having worked in retail numerous times, the majority of people employed by retail stores are good-hearted and customer focused, not looking to prey on people to sell them on something.

  4. George J Lloyd permalink

    ” using pepper spray to get $2 waffle irons” I’d laught it weren’t so sad… 🙂

  5. I’m not a big fan of retailers moving Black Friday into Thanksgiving, but I’ve also got to say that I’m already planning to stand in line at one of these stores Thursday night. I really don’t think it is fair to the employees that really don’t have a choice in the matter. I’m sure these big box store managers tell their workers that they should be “thankful” they have a job!

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