Shop 'til you drop, but after Thanksgiving
The Kansas City Star
Let’s begin by stating the obvious. Thursday is not Friday.
The decision by retailers to begin Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day reveals this phenomenon for what we always knew it to be. Not a shopper’s holiday, a festive event for people who don’t mind lines, crowds and pandemonium. Black Friday isn’t a happening at all. It’s not even a Friday anymore. It is sheer marketing manipulation.
Retailers who decided to kick off Black Friday on Thanksgiving Thursday rationalized it by insisting that customers requested it. And really, what better way to work off the excesses of a turkey dinner than a fullback-style rush down the electronics aisle?
But anyone so enamored of Black Friday shopping as to want to get started on Thursday understands that one doesn’t just walk in the door at the designated opening time and leisurely pick up the hottest items at the best prices.
No, you must get there early. So if you want to compete for the “door crasher” superspecials when your store of choice opens for Black Friday at 8 p.m. on Thursday, you may need to be in line by noon or earlier.
It raises the question: Are you forgoing your turkey or taking its place?
Where does this end? Ideally, with a show of defiance by the American public. Thanksgiving is our family holiday. Granted, that family business can get a little out of hand, but by and large we cherish the tradition. Are we going to let chain retailers ruin it by setting up a phony competition for the latest gadgets?
I think not. Thanksgiving features something that Americans value more highly than shopping. Eating is the great American pastime. Few of us will pass up the annual turkey-stuffing-mashed potatoes-and-dessert extravaganza to stand in line in some parking lot waiting for a store to open.
Some will, of course, and they’ll get the best deals. But that will only stir resentment among the turkey-feasting crowd. And if there’s one thing merchants don’t want, it’s aggrieved buyers. My optimistic prediction is that we’re witnessing the peak of Black Friday foolishness, and a correction will follow.
Some of the most vociferous protests against Black Friday creep have come from retail employees — usually an invisible class of people. They’ve been signing online petitions by the thousands, protesting against Thursday kickoff times for Black Friday.
“I have no problem with Black Friday,” wrote Casey St. Clair, a Target employee in California who initiated one of the petitions. “I thought it was interesting the first year I worked the 4 a.m. opening. Last year’s opening at midnight was pushing it. By the time I left around 8 a.m., I was absolutely exhausted.”
Target this year announced plans to open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. St. Clair’s petition, which has collected more that 300,000 signatures, notes correctly, if undiplomatically, that “the world won’t end if people have to wait seven more hours to buy useless junk that will be outdated in a year anyway.”
Chain retailers, including Target, have defended their Thanksgiving openings by noting that most line employees volunteered to work, will receive overtime pay and managers were expected to work the holiday also.
But working holiday hours isn’t always as optional as it sounds. The retail sector is rife with stories from employees who faced retribution for declining to “volunteer” to work the big sale.
Shoppers, if you think waiting in line is stressful, consider the employees. Many of them reported to work hours before the opening to get ready. They are probably operating on minimum sleep. They will bear the brunt of frustration experienced by customers who found themselves beaten to the gadget of their dreams.
Retail employees shouldn’t have to fight alone against Black Friday creep. It’s customers who hold the cards. It may be too late for this year, but if we value Thanksgiving as a family holiday, we should all stay home and eat turkey.
As everybody knows by now, ours is an economy that depends on people buying stuff. Lots of stuff. We can decry the unseemliness of the holiday season shopping spree, but most of us have a stake in its success.
We should be pulling for a happy and hearty Black Friday.
Just not on Thanksgiving Thursday.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @bshelly.