Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Two Children of Black Friday

Black Friday is a huge money day for retailers in the United States.  You can tell how much retailers rely on Black Friday sales just by looking at the amount of sales circulars that come with the Wednesday paper (the day before Thanksgiving.)  Retailers spend lots of money to get our attention for this Holy Grail of retail sales.  They rely on consumers getting caught up in the hype of Black Friday and spending money, even money we don't have.  This year I was not surprised that retailers have decided to invade a traditional family holiday with their offerings of retail sales: Thanksgiving day sales.

Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart all had Thanksgiving day sales beginning at 8pm for Kmart.  The deals were tempting, but I kept feeling bad for those employees who had to work on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  What about family, what about sitting at home with all your crazy relatives, love them or leave them, on Thanksgiving for these people?  

Sure, I know that many people are just happy to have a job after having experienced one of the worst recessions in history.  Yet, all money ain't good money.  Family and family values should still matter.  Business should never take over what is really important in life.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned because I value my family and the time I spend with them.  But from a business standpoint, does having Thanksgiving day sales (which you know will get bigger next year and continually grow) cause resentment among the employees who must work this holiday?

According to an article on the Harvard Business Review, employees don't like working on Thanksgiving.  "One group is definitely worse off: retail employees. Customers can pass on Gray Thursday, but employees are stuck. They often have to show up several hours before opening. And they don't like it! Casey St. Clair, a Target employee, was so upset that she set up a petition on change.org to "save Thanksgiving" and go back to Friday morning opening. By midday today more than 370,000 people had signed it."

To what benefit is it to retail businesses to forgo employee happiness?  Apparently, the recession has made businesses more callous and less concerned about employee happiness or unhappiness.  The pool of eligible and available workers is plentiful, and if a group of employees decide they don't want to work on Thanksgiving, well, there are many who will.  

Of course, ethically, that doesn't make it right, but from a business standpoint, earnings are earnings, and nothing will get in the way of a good opportunity as the one that has emerged for retail sales on Thanksgiving.  Black Friday has birthed two children:  Cyber Monday and Thanksgiving Day sales days.  

From an ethical standpoint the HBR article further states:  "And when retailers make decisions such as opening stores on Thanksgiving, without even a clear benefit to the companies or their customers, retail employees are once again reminded of how little their companies care about their lives and well being. What difference does it make if a household with two working parents or a single-parent household hardly ever has time for a big family gathering? What difference does it make if a joyful family tradition has to be cut down to size? That's not a business matter. Is it any wonder that Walmart associates and community supporters were mad enough to protest about bad jobs in front of Walmart stores on Black Friday?"

I guess it's true that desperate times call for desperate measures, and the retail industry is desperate.  

What do you think?  Did you have to work Thanksgiving?  And if so, how did that make you feel?