Tis the season. As we gear up for the Christmas shopping rush to begin, we face a dilemma that’s become a lot more prominent in recent years: many retailers are going to open for early Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving evening. This has horrified a certain percentage of people who see it as another sign of the commercialized holiday’s insidious creep. If the slippery slope slide continues, before you know it we’re going to witness a sort of reverse Nightmare Before Christmas scenario in which Santa Claus decides he wants to take over Halloween.
But what really seems to get these people indignant is the idea that, quelle horreur, some poor people will actually have to work on Thanksgiving all so that discount-greedy shoppers can sate their unholy bargain lust. (In some cases, you see the variant that it will attract said people away from Thanksgiving family time, and if it weren’t for these stores’ insidious siren call, those people would be perfectly happy to stay home and relax with their families. Out of this line of reasoning we also got Prohibition and the War On Some Drugs.)
So you get things like change.org petitions asking K-Mart to close early on Thanksgiving. This particular one is by a daughter who is fed up with watching her mother have to work Thanksgiving every year. It’s got a couple of thousand signatures so far.
There’s another one with just 62 signatures, too, which reads in part:
Last year on Thanksgiving Day I sold things like only one pair of socks to a customer and only one flannel shirt to another, etc. These items could have easily been purchased the day before or the day after the holiday. Customers repeatedly comment they are surprised Kmart was even opened. Does Kmart really benefit from being open on these days?
I feel for whoever this person is that wrote it, I really do. I worked part-time as a K-mart cashier myself about fifteen years ago, while going to college for a second time. I remember the horrible shopping rush experience of Black Friday. And I remember having to work holidays. I also remember the nice overtime pay I got for doing it, which was helpful when it came to buying Christmas presents myself (or, y’know, paying the rent and stuff).
But the thing is, all the petitions in the world aren’t going to make retailers cut it out. It’s not so much that they’re greedy for customers as it is they’re needy for customers. They’re not really competing with each other anymore; they’re competing with the online stores like Amazon. They’re so beleaguered that even Wal-Mart has begun to match online prices.
In the UK, a group is trying to organize a Christmas Amazon boycott, but I don’t see it getting very far off the ground. After decades of horrendous holiday shopping, fighting the crowds for deals that sell out very quickly and ending up completely exhausted, people found Amazon and it was love at first (web)site. Amazon Prime customers order even stuff they might previously have gone to a local store for all the time, because they get it shipped fast, but for Christmas, at least this early, even the non-Prime shoppers will be more attracted to Amazon. If they’re just going to give it to someone else in a few weeks anyway, what do they care if it takes two days or five to arrive?
Even price matching Amazon won’t lure these kinds of shoppers out, because they don’t have to have whatever they’re buying right now, and having to fight the crowds to get it would be a negative from their point of view. My parents love Amazon. You know how hard it is to get most members of that generation to love anything on the Internet? Even pricematching and Black Friday deals might not be enough.
Under that kind of pressure, brick and mortar retailers are going to try to steal any kind of march they possibly can, including having at least some hours open on a day when they know for a fact many many people will not be stuck working. And as many people as have their Thanksgiving dinners for lunch and have had several hours to work off the turkey coma and get restive, it makes sense to be open that evening to give them something to do.
The holiday shopping season is the make-or-break time of year for retailers, the time where they make the majority of the profit that keeps them afloat for another year. They’re going to fight for it like dogs over scraps.
The “won’t someone think of the poor people who have to work Thanksgiving?” argument doesn’t cut much ice with me. Most of the jobs I’ve worked over the last ten years, I didn’t get holidays off. I got extra pay for working on them, and given that was fairly low-paying customer service work, every dollar an hour counted.
But lots more people than just retail staff have to work on the holidays. Police, firefighters, health care professionals—in fact, my family is having our Thanksgiving family get-together this weekend instead of next because my sister-in-law is a pediatrician and has to be on call Thanksgiving. And there are non-department stores like grocery stores that have to be open for those last-minute turkey dinner ingredient purchases, too. Nobody’s buying gifts from them, but their employees have to work Thanksgiving, too. And the restaurants that are open to serve Thanksgiving Dinner to people who don’t have families to get together with have to be staffed by people, too.
As hard as it is to get everyone together at one time, my family is used to treating most holidays as “movable feasts,” and I’d be surprised if that weren’t true for a lot of other families as well.
Yes, working Thanksgiving is a pain. Working Christmas is a pain. Working the 4th of July can be annoying, or Labor Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, or any other holiday where lots of people get time off but you don’t. But the money’s usually good, and often enough you can take another day off the week before or after and get your family togetherness time then. In my experience, it doesn’t matter what specific day you get together with them as long as you can at some point.
While I doubt we’re going to go far enough down the slippery slope to start having Christmas in October, I don’t see the shopping-on-Thanksgiving situation improving either. Entropy doesn’t reverse itself. We’re not going to see people lose interest in online stores and go back to the crowded, frustrating Jingle All the Way experience.
So, yes, protest if it makes you feel better, but you’re wasting your breath. As brick and mortar retailers continue to live in fear of Amazon, they’re only going to get more desperate. Hope you like movable feasts.