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Home » Personal Asides

Black Thanksgiving: Who is to Blame?

Last updated by on 21 Comments

Last year, number of big name retailers, including Walmart, Sears, and Toys R Us – made the jump from Black Friday to Thanksgiving night hours. That prompted a little ode to Black Friday from me.

In that rant, I predicted the path had been set for this to become the norm. It has. Walmart, Sears, and Toys R Us all have announced they will be opening even earlier this year, at 8pm on Thanksgiving night. Target made the leap from midnight to 9pm to join the others.

Those brazen few paved the way for a number more to make the move this year.

Whether its 8pm, 9pm, or midnight, it doesn’t really matter. The message has clearly been sent: “We retailers care more about driving a tiny bit more profit than we care about our employees spending a holiday with their families.”

Is it more of a case of greed or desperation on behalf of these retailers?

Moving Thanksgiving store hours earlier and earlier every year to compete reeks of desperation. If you provide a good value prop. to your customers, what are you worried about? Are those few hours going to make or break your year? Are they worth sacrificing your entire workforce’s morale? If so, I really question the future of your business.

black thursdayOr, perhaps it’s just another form of corporate greed? All of these store hour decisions roll up to the highest executives in these companies. Why not pull the trigger if it means a bump in their annual bonus? Rest assured, they’ll be spending the entire holiday weekend at home or on vacation with their families, so it doesn’t really effect them.

What’s really sad about this is that this is the first time all of these retailers are doing this in their long and storied histories. And that really speaks to:

  1. a devaluing of the employee
  2. a cultural values tipping point

Are Consumers to Blame for Black Thanksgiving?

A number of retailers have made this move because they claim that they are simply responding to consumer demand.

I have a very hard time believing this assertion. I can’t imagine that millions or even thousands of consumers sent desperate please to CEO’s begging for them to open on Thanksgiving so they could spend those holiday hours rushing around so as not to miss out on deals they could have had the next day anyways.

Consumer demand” could easily be translated to “Competitor store A opened on Thanksgiving and now I’m scared a few customers won’t visit my store the next day if they got everything they needed on Thanksgiving“. There is no demand without the stores opening earlier in the first place.

Employees Fight Back

Imagine being an employee of one of these stores.

You probably don’t get vacation, your pay sucks, and unless you are in management, you likely do not have the transferable skills to just up and leave because you don’t like an employer’s decision. Thanksgiving was one of the 2 days per year you could actually count on spending with your family (even if you had to go to bed at 3pm in order to wake up and get in to work for a 12am opening). No more. And it’s not just showing up at 8pm when the store opens, it’s coming in hours earlier to set up, stock, and prepare for the ensuing madness.

While the retailers have made claims that they have given their employees the option to work on Thanksgiving, the employees have been vocal that is not the case.

Not surprisingly, they are a bit pissed.

Thousands of Walmart employees are planning strikes.

One Target employee started an online petition urging them to change back their hours. The petition is closing in on half-a-million signatures, with a number of them threatening to not shop at Target at all this holiday season if they don’t change the hours back. It joins over 90 similar petitions on change.org.

That’s some REAL consumer and employee demand.

Consumers Need to Step it Up (by Staying Home)

Employees can’t do it alone, however. We, as consumers, have a moral responsibility to back them up by not taking our business to these retailers.

That shiny piece of crap at 20% off you could have snatched up days later will feel incredibly hollow once it makes it home and you realize you’ve sacrificed some of the last few hours of quality family time you had left over the year and contributed to another human being peeled away from their family as well.

Make these greedy retailer CEO’s regretful that they made these decisions. The negative PR is there, the undesirable increase in union activity is there, the employee disdain and pushback is there, but nothing will change unless you, as a consumer, stay away from the madness. Prove to them that some things are still more important than money.

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21 Comments »
  • Another classic example of the problems with our consumer society that puts the dollar ahead of other much more important things. I’ve never participated in black Friday sales or anything like them. Yuck.

    I make a point of not buying anything on any day big business tells me to spend freely.

  • Greg says:

    Thank you for writing this article; I would love to see employees get back a semblance of respect from their employers, instead of being forced to work on Thanksgiving!

    I for one will be speaking with my dollars, by keeping them in my wallet instead of going out on Thanksgiving (or Black Friday).

    For many years I’ve seen people lining up outside of Best Buy locations around midday on Thanksgiving and I just shake my head, wondering how little that person thinks of their family and friends that they choose to devalue their holiday and place the money saved on a TV or other electronic item ahead of the good times they could have had. It completely speaks to the current state of our society.

  • Rachel says:

    I don’t know…if consumers didn’t want to be out on Thanksgiving, they’d stay home, right? Then the retailers would change their approach (like not opening their doors on a major holiday) because they wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t profitable.

  • Nicholas says:

    Consumers are always to blame for things like this. Personally, I don’t understand why everyone is so upset. I worked my first holiday when I was 15, and it wouldn’t be my last. I did it for minimum wage and no benefits and I was still grateful to have the job. One year, business was so bad (consumers stayed home) that we shut down early and I got to go home and spend the holidays with family. Money ultimately talks – if consumers don’t go out to shop, they won’t open on these days.

    Also, if these kids don’t want to work holidays in the future they should learn a more marketable skill and find a better job where they don’t have to work holidays.

    • Nicholas says:

      Just to head off any reply that’s coming about the job market – that’s not an excuse. There are literally, millions of STEM jobs (industry I work in) unfilled in this country. They’re unfilled because not enough of our youth is interested in these fields anymore. They are good paying jobs where generally, you have enough leverage with your employer (because of your skill set)that you don’t have to work holidays.

  • Mano says:

    GREED is the cause of all misery!

    Only in America, thanksgiving is supposed to mean – being thankful for what we have, thanking others and sharing with them whatever we have.

    And in less than 12 hours, go on a savage hunt without slightest regard for fellow shoppers for goods that you really dont need!!

  • Warren says:

    There is a way for these stores to have measured consumer demand before they did this. All these chains have Internet web sites and have been able to view shopping patterns for years. This is not to say that opening on Thanksgiving is the right thing to do.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Hmm… perhaps they could have just offered specials on their website on Thanksgiving Day so that customers AND employees could stay home. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that.

    • Sarah says:

      Warren: That’s my understanding as well.

      I think it would have made more sense (and been less offensive) to do online Thanksgiving sales – sort of like what Amazon has been doing for the past few weeks with their lightning deals. That way the stores could get an early start on holiday sales, allow people to shop after dinner without leaving the house, and avoid all the negative press surrounding “Black Thursday.”

  • Tim says:

    Great post and a perfect time… I for one have been against the whole Black Friday craze since… umm.. well it would be 1998.. I remember standing in line at Best Buy for something.. god only knows what.. (Obviously some shiny piece of crap for 20% that still ended up being just that.. a cheaper shiny piece of crap.)

    However, that being said I still play the whole Black Friday craze but I do it by owning stocks of retailers that in some cases do well and others do bad.. but it works out much better for me.. and lot less stress.. and more time with family and friends.

    Until consumers wise up about their real problems and habits.. consumerism will drive this market and economy over the top.

    I’m reading a great book that I haven’t heard of till now.. “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert T. Kiyosaki. A lot of good elements in there about the middle class and people under that which I would relate to most Americans.

    This year. I am Thankful for the financial literacy I have gained the past 2 years from blogs just like this and among other things some really great books. My net worth according to Statistics is well above the median NW of people 25 years older than me, and I am about 75% of the average net worth of people 25 years older than me….

    My family is more less taken care of at this point… Now I just have to figure out what I want to do for the next 25-30 years of my life… I just don’t see retirement as an option.. I’ve always got me hands into something for fun!!!

    Cheers!! and HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!!!!

  • idlewild says:

    i worked in retail while i was in college. the “deals” you get on black friday are discounts on items that have been slowly been getting marked up for months prior or items that are marked a price drastically higher than the store ever considered selling them for.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I admire those who have the strength to avoid the BF & CM deals but it seems to be a moot point as there are plenty of other willing volunteers to take your spot.

  • Matt says:

    Never taken part in Black Friday, even think the name gives it away, it is dark, sinister, something to be avoided.

    How about Light Friday, a day to spend online shopping from the comfortable embrace of the family snoozing pit in front of the tele watching reruns and sharing a bottle of plonk.

    One observation though is the funk we’re throwing at CEO’s for doing this. With the exception I think of Walmart which is family owned, are we not all part and parcel of it. We want our stocks to do well, we hold CEO’s accountable, we want our investments to be as productive as they can be.

    However, I agree and both my wife and I refuse to have anything to do with forcing others to work when we believe they should not. To emphasise this we do more and more online retail and subscribe to the death of the store and all the jobs that go with it. It might be painful in the short term, but in the long term it will be to the benefit of our adaptable economy and the adaptable workforce that creates it.

  • At the end of the day, if there wasn’t demand then these sales wouldn’t happen. You’re absolutely right, consumers need to stay home and not play into this. I do feel terribly for the employees of these stores that engage in this. One day of Black shopping is enough!

  • Anna says:

    I think it’s far more a two way street then you suggest- if consumers weren’t paying, retailers wouldn’t be opening- but I do feel bad for the employees caught in the middle. At any rate,I’ve never done Black Friday, and I’ll never do Black Thanksgiving.

  • Nicholas says:

    Why does retail get all the sympathy? Police, firemen, EMTs, other emergency responders, gas stations, military personnel, IT professionals (having a network outage in todays age means taking a significant sales hit), etc. etc. are all working on holidays.

    • Warren says:

      Police, firemen, EMTs, other emergency responders, military personnel, hospitals, gas stations and other transportation, some types of food service, and the like work in industries where the nature of the industry requires that there be people working 365 days, some 24 hours a day. There is nothing in the nature of retail sales that requires that Thanksgiving, or the longer extended hours of some black Friday sales have to happen. These are arbitrary decisions.

  • Matt says:

    I appreciate the sentiment and the intent of this article. No one wants to see someone miss out on a family gathering. However, I disagree with the premise of the article.

    No one forces these employees to work there. If they don’t have other “choices,” then you should think about why they don’t have other choices. One of the reasons is that the government makes it difficult for employers to hire people. There are payroll taxes and all sorts of “benefits” that the employer must pay to their employees, by law, in order to hire and employ them. There are also minimum wage laws, which distinctly benefit some people, but only at the expense of others. Minimum wage laws merely substitute low wages with unemployment. There is the risk of lawsuits from injured or disgruntled employees as well.

    Also, as some other commenters have pointed out, the consumers are missing out on their family time too. If there was no market for this tactic of opening stores earlier, then the executives wouldn’t do it. Capitalists place capital (land, labor, money) where there is consumer demand. This is good for everyone.

    Imagine if the government decides that people shouldn’t work on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Great! Right? They all get to spend it with their families. Consumers aren’t tempted to leave their parties earlier. However, think about this: what if these deals, and these sales, create more profits for the businesses, and consumers get better deals than they otherwise would have? The business can use these profits to expand, hire more workers, lower prices, raise wages, etc. The money that the consumer saves can be spent somewhere else, saved (and subsequently lent out by banks), invested, etc. Also, some of the employees of Costco, target, etc. may need that extra shift for their own holiday shopping! If the government declares an edict banning Thanksgiving shopping, none of this happens, and we all lose. The laws of economics don’t care what your intentions are.

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