Black Friday Backlash & Other Tales from the Dark Side of Retail
CNNMoney recently featured an article on Black Friday and how stores are opening earlier this year in anticipation of holiday shoppers. The article included the account of Anthony Hardwick, a part-time clerk at Target (NYSE: TGT) in Omaha, Neb., and how owing to the fact that he will have to start his shift at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Hardwick will have to sleep through the Thanksgiving meal -- thereby losing valuable holiday time with his fiancee.
Perhaps Hardwick didn't get the memo that he should be grateful for merely having a job and being able to work on Thanksgiving, a holiday meant for being grateful. (A recent survey suggests that Hardwick may have to work in retail as a wage slave until he's 80 years old; just something else he apparently should be grateful for.) Sheesh, why isn't Hardwick getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving?
According to the CNNMoney article, "Hardwick started an online petition entitled 'Tell Target to Save Thanksgiving', in the hope that the retailer would push the store opening back to Friday to allow workers to spend more time with family." In anticipation of Black Friday shoppers, "this year marks Target's earliest opening ever". Even further, big-box stores like "Best Buy (NYSE: BBY), Macy's (NYSE: M), and Kohl's (NYSE: KSS) are all opening at midnight on Thanksgiving eve." As for Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), the company plans on opening at 10 p.m on Thanksgiving. Toys 'R' Us has decided to take things a step further in deciding to open its doors an hour earlier at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
Where shoppers may be happy about earlier store openings, some employees are upset. According to an article from azfamily.com, some retail employees are accusing retailers of stealing Thanksgiving. According to the article, in response to Hardwick's abovementioned petition, Target released a statement claiming in part: "Black Friday is one of the busiest and most competitive shopping days of the year. We have heard from our guests that they want to shop Target following their Thanksgiving celebrations rather than only having the option of getting up in the middle of the night. By opening at midnight, we are making it easier than ever to deliver on our guests' wants and needs ... Target will offer holiday pay to all hourly team members who work on Thanksgiving Day."
Some mall stores are also getting into the Black Friday ultra-early mix as well. According to an article from twincities.com, at Woodbury Lakes in Woodbury, Minn., Gap and Aeropostale are scheduled to open at midnight on Black Friday. According to the article, "youth-oriented retailers like American Eagle, Hollister, and Abercrombie & Fitch wanted to join the midnight party". Further, more than 100 stores will open at midnight at the Mall of America.
However, MSNBC's Marisa Taylor reported Friday that as some retailers and analysts are beginning to question the madness, a backlash against earlier store openings is growing. As such, some stores are refusing to participate in the Black Friday arms race this year. For example, Sears is opening at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, in contrast to last year when Sears was open on Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. till noon. According to Sears spokesman Tom Aiello, "The customer feedback was very clear. The customers liked the deals, but they didn't like the idea of Thanksgiving shorted as a holiday." JC Penney is also opening at 4 a.m. "so employees can spend Thanksgiving with friends and family, according to a company spokesman". Heavens be praised, there are still some humans in the corporate world.
As much as retailers may want to put the blame of early openings on the demands and wishes of customers, the crux really does come back to the management of the stores. I'm not sure if it's my intuitive mind or what, but mark my words: Ridiculously-early midnight openings on Black Friday are the makings for bad economic karma. It may take some time for stores to realize it, but forcing low-paid workers to sleep through a national holiday for the sake of working at midnight the next day for people shopping (for another holiday) sounds like some serious bad economic karma. Sears seems to have discovered that fact, but as the arms race for stores' opening on Black Friday has turned into a race to the bottom, the loser appears to be those many employees forced to sacrifice their holiday for the Kafkaesque, dehumanizing world of retail.
Even so, I can understand that for some, stores opening at midnight on Black Friday in retail may be a mixed blessing. There may be some good deals, maybe workers can earn extra money for their own holiday shopping, and maybe retailers can spur commerce. Even so, in a society divided into two classes, those-who-are-served and those-who-serve, such economic activities have their limits. An observer might want to tell the Target employee Anthony Hardwick, "Just be grateful you even have a job" as employers have been telling their employees since the beginning of time, but such a retort sounds like a cop-out to me.
How ironic it is that a wage slave should be told to be grateful for being able to work on a holiday reserved for being grateful for what one has. American society should be ashamed of itself -- that the commercial world and its low-paid workers have been reduced to this. Retailers opening at midnight on Black Friday is simply disgusting. Disgusting! American society should be ashamed of itself. To be frank, American society needs to really start taking an honest look in the mirror.
As for me and my house, I assure you, we will not be participating in any Black Friday retail activities. In my adult life, I do not recall ever shopping on Black Friday; the entire phenomenon strikes me as being sheer madness in which I do not wish to participate. When you think about, Black Friday is pretty silly. Individuals' camping out outside stores in order to buy various items, more or less temporary things, with workers having to show up at three or four in the morning to appease salivating customers lining up outside the door. And what is ironic is that many consumers are shopping for a holiday season that is more about family and gratefulness than commercialism. Pure silliness.
As I recently told my significant other, American society needs a dose of "hygge" in the holiday season. Hygge is a Danish word (pron. "hooga" with pursed lips) that could be translated as "coziness" or "fellowship". Hygge means spending calm, relaxed, and comfortable time with family, friends, and loved ones. Sharing a good meal and good drinks in a close, warm environment with loved ones through the holiday season can be a form of hygge. Sitting around the tree trading stories of the past while drinking some mulled wine or warm apple cider may also be a form of hygge. With a struggling economy and societal malaise, I believe American society could use a bit more hygge and a bit less commercialism. In this way, I hope to get loved ones better gifts like food and wine this holiday season by shopping at stores like World Market.
I am proud to say that my local World Market store is opening up at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, and as such, I am now more willing to shop at Cost Plus, Inc.'s World Market (NASDAQ: CPWM) than other various big-box stores -- as World Market seems to have retained a sense of humanity in its business. It would appear that World Market is sowing the seeds of good economic karma in American society. In contrast, where stores like Kohl's, Macy's, and Wal-Mart are good stores generally, they should really be ashamed of themselves for opening at midnight on Black Friday or even earlier. (Consumers are also partly to blame for deciding to shop at two or three in the morning the day after Thanksgiving; even so, retailers encourage shoppers by way of their advertised Black Friday prices.)Thus, this year I hope to find holiday gifts that can spur some cultural hygge in the US at World Market. Chipotle (NYSE: CMG) gift cards are also always nice. American society could use a bit of hygge in the holiday season.
Truth be told, I used to work in retail. I worked as a part-time clerk for one of the aforementioned companies. Let us just say that it was not my cup of tea. Working in retail felt a bit like some sort of occupational purgatory for me. I can understand that working in retail may be good for some people; some people may want to work in retail, and that's great. But for me personally, I did not care for working in retail, but it was the only job I could find at the time.
For those who do not know, working retail can be rough. You have to deal with eager customers all day, some of whom are less than content. As one co-worker once told me long ago, after a while you just feel like saying, "People, get the hell out of my face." Working in retail as a low-wage clerk can be quite demeaning and dehumanizing at times. You can't even sit down. Between stocking shelves to replenish merchandise, running around the store assisting customers, and helping customers take things like vacuum cleaners and dishware out to their cars, by the time you get home you feel like you desperately need a shower. And if you dare to have a cup of coffee on the job, be prepared for a scolding from the manager. How dare you not act like a mindless automaton-robot while you're working! To say the least, retail was not for me.
I must confess, I have worked Black Fridays in retail. And I must also confess, after working one Black Friday where I worked as a cashier for 8.5 hours straight from six in the morning to three in the afternoon, I decided that that would be the last Black Friday I would ever work in retail ever again. I didn't care if it meant that I would have to move to Alaska or Norway to work on a fishing boat or move to the Philippines to work on a goat farm, there was no way that I was ever again going to work in retail on Black Fridays. This was my vow, and since then, I've stuck to it.
For the simple clerk that is corralled into retail owing to socio-economic circumstances and is mandated to work Black Friday, Black Fridays can be hell. A Kafkaesque dark hell of retail madness. The day may start out at three or four in the morning and may go until three or four in the afternoon. The stores are crazy, the parking lots are packed, and the universe seems to swirl with an artificially luminescent haze amidst the darkness. And even after, retail clerks have to clean up the extravagant messes that customers left behind in their wake. Boxes are ripped apart, items are thrown on the floor, coffee is spilled here & there, and trash is left all over the place. And meanwhile, you have Susie Q and John Doe impatiently wondering why you haven't retrieved their coffee maker from the back storage area yet.
While others approach Black Friday and march into stores by their own will, those who are corralled into the world of retail are driven into Black Friday against their will, mandated to work by their authorities, and forced to have bittersweet Thanksgivings in anticipation for the retail hell to follow the next day. Bound up in overcrowded, congested, noisy big-box stores -- all in the spirit of holiday season shopping. Such is a sad testament to the devolution of American commercialism and the dilution of the true value of American holidays. In the end, it's enough to make one say, "All I want for Christmas is a return to humanity and civility in American society."
In short, Black Friday is an American tradition that I believe American society would be better off letting go and discarding. If the day should ever come where the phenomenon known as Black Friday is a thing of the past, I for one will be very thankful.
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