It’s never a good idea for stores to upset customers. Considering how important the holiday period is for retailers, right now is an especially bad time to get shoppers and employees agitated. Yet this especially big week for holiday shopping will be marked with plenty of anger and disappointment aimed at major retailers.
There are many reasons people are angry with big chain stores lately, sometimes to the point of threatening boycotts and strikes. Hundreds of thousands of consumers have urged Macy’s to end its affiliation with Donald Trump, reported Businessweek, due to the Donald’s bashing of President Obama before, during, and after the recent election. Roughly one-third of respondents in a dealnews survey, meanwhile, say they won’t shop at Best Buy or its website over Black Friday weekend—fallout from the retailer’s debacle of the 2011 holidays, when customers found out their online orders placed in November wouldn’t arrive by Christmas, if at all.
What seems to really getting folks up in arms, however, is the way that commercialism is creeping into the once-sacrosanct holiday of Thanksgiving, as it becomes commonplace for stores to open with deals aplenty on Thanksgiving night. Target was the subject of worker protests last year due to its midnight opening on Thanksgiving night. This year, Target is opening at the post-dessert hour of 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening. Leading up to Thanksgiving of 2011, a petition at Change.org asking Target to cancel its Thanksgiving night opening received 200,000 online signatures.
In 2012, there are more than 140 Change.org petitions imploring Target and other stores to do the right thing and keep Thanksgiving as a day of rest, not shopping. Within a couple days of Turkey Day, one Change.org petition targeting Target’s intrusion on the family time of store workers has garnered over 350,000 supporters. The petition states that it is “inhumane and inconsiderate” to ask employees to work go into work after their holiday dinner and then work through the night into Black Friday. The note ends with a request that needles the mindset of retail marketing and mass consumption alike:
Give Thanksgiving back to families. The world won’t end if people have wait 7 more hours to buy useless junk that will be outdated in a year anyway.
Target has responded to the complaints—well, not to the bit about “useless junk,” but to the idea that it is cruelly forcing employees to work—with a blog post explaining that nearly all workers reporting for duty on Thanksgiving evening volunteered for the shifts, and that they’re getting time-and-a-half wages. Target’s not just pushing around lowly hourly workers either, the post states; company executives are also expected to work on Thanksgiving and/or Black Friday.
Target, you see, is first and foremost a “family-focused retailer and we want to do everything we can to respect the time our team members spend with their families,” one Target executive says. The extra Thanksgiving night hours were also added out of concern for families. “Our opening time this year reflects the feedback we have heard from our guests,” the post reads. “Many prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning.”
Target, of course, isn’t the only store opening for Black Friday on Thursday. Shoppers are facing an extra bloated 2012 Black Friday with Toys R Us and Walmart kicking off Black Friday deals at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Target isn’t the only store being asked to rethink its Thanksgiving hours either. One SignOn.org petition started by a Walmart worker in Wisconsin states:
As the largest employer in the country, Walmart could be setting a standard for businesses to value families, but instead, this is another Walmart policy decision that hurts the families of workers at its stores.
I urge you to give Walmart employees their holiday back… Walmart can do the right thing, and give Thanksgiving back and allow workers to spend time with their families.
Walmart may have especially big problems this week because protesters aren’t merely voicing their displeasure with the world’s largest retailer online. Some workers’ groups are planning protests in front of stores over pay and benefits, though it’s difficult to gauge how widespread the protests will be. Bloomberg New reported that a few dozen Walmart employees in the Seattle area went on strike last week, that more workers may go on strike, and that as many as 1,000 protests (online and outside stores) could be mounted this week.
Will the protests have any effect on Black Friday (or Thursday) sales? Experts told Bloomberg that it’s unlikely consumers will alter their Black Friday plans just because of a few disgruntled workers marching with signs in front of Walmart:
“Shoppers in the parking lot will say ‘Oh, that’s terrible — OK, where do I get my discounted electronics,’” said [Northwestern University labor relations law professor Zev] Eigen, who is based in Chicago. “That’s one of the big challenges for thelabor movement. We’ll sign online petitions, but we won’t vote with our wallets.”
Which brings up the line of questioning: Is it retailers that are ruining Thanksgiving? Or is it that shoppers are ruining Thanksgiving by playing along with retailer intrusions on the national day of thanks? Who is to blame—the stores or the people who are extra eager to shop in the stores? While one segment of the population reacts to Thanksgiving store hours with a scornful How dare they!, another group wonders How early can I leave the dinner table to go shopping?
“It makes sense then for retailers to just open the doors” on Thanksgiving, MarketWatch story notes. “They wouldn’t if we didn’t walk through them.” No one is forcing consumers to walk through them, many experts explained in the story:
“There will be a lot of backlash on blogs and such, on family values and how we’re becoming too commercial,” says the San Diego State University marketing professor [Miro Copic]. “But at the end of the day, it’s a choice. If I’m a retailer and I’m open, I’m telling you that you don’t have to come, but I’m giving you a convenience if you want to come.”
When people, as they grow older, remember the best holidays of their lives, is it some discounted gift that they recall with warmth and fondness? Some deal that they found? Or is it the family members and loved ones with whom they spent the holiday time?
We’ll also read about how the extra store hours are literally killing Thanksgiving:
RIP, Thanksgiving. Time of death: 8 p.m. Nov. 22, 2012.
Which, let’s note, is the same time stamp likely to show up on the coroner’s report for the first shopper of the season trampled to death while fighting to grab a door-buster sale on an LCD TV.
But will any of these sentiments, wise and insightful as they may be, stop stores from opening or stop people from wanting to go shopping the moment doors open?