Image via Business Insider
There are many reasons that stores encroaching in on the holidays is bad for employees, and they have been, and will continue to be discussed over the next 2 months. But sadly this discussion in't going to get anything changed. We've been having this same conversation every year for decades and the situation for retail employees has only gotten worse. The only way this will get better is if it makes good business sense to reverse direction.
2014 may have been the epitome of shitty holiday hours with many major chain opening at 6PM on Thanksgiving, and some even earlier. Yes, we have crossed the line from retailers asking their employees to wake up stupid-early on Black Friday to work and were now straight up asking them to skip Thanksgiving dinner so they can come to work. And remember that Black Friday is not technically a holiday, so workers don't get paid time and a half.
For some perspective of how quickly this has accelerated, here's what times Target opened for Black Friday over the past 5 years:
- 2009: 6AM Friday
- 2010: 4AM Friday
- 2011: 12AM Friday
- 2013: 9PM Thanksgiving
- 2014: 6PM Thanksgiving
- 2015: ???
I think that this ever-earlier trend in retail openings is about to break and we're going to get back to more sane Black Friday practices. We have companies like REI who have announced they will be closed all day on Black Friday. We also have Staples and GameStop saying they will not be open on Thanksgiving and will open up at 5-6AM on Friday morning. Last year, Staples opened at 6PM on Thanksgiving and GameStop opened at midnight.
This is good news, but these companies aren't changing their tunes out of the kindness of their hearts, they're doing what they always do, maximize revenue. Here's why they're backing down:
The times stated getting earlier and earlier and the amount of money retailers were making on Black Friday went up and up. However, that correlation between opening earlier and making more money has slowed in the last couple years. The National Retail Federation reported an 11% decrease in spending over the Thanksgiving weekend, despite most retailers being open for more hours.
That's not great, especially when many retailers were open 10-15% more hours than the previous year and had to pay workers that much more.
A better economy
The mad dash to compete even harder on Black Friday began around 2008 with the financial collapse in the united States. With less money going into people's pockets, the prospect of saving some money on Christmas gifts was a massive draw. Many people flocked to stores on Thanksgiving because they felt they needed to get the deals that were on offer.
However, the economy is now on the rise and people in general aren't feeling as desperate as they once did. More people are willing to have a nice Thanksgiving with their family and go shopping later.
A growing frustration from customers
Black Friday has always been a little controversial, but the combination of these ever-extended hours and social media have given many customers the platform to vent their disgust in retailers' general "lack of shits given" to their workers' work/life balance. The feeling is swelling to a fever pitch, and it's actually causing people to not go out shopping in protest.
In addition to being upset on behalf of retail employees, they're also frustrated in how Black Friday is encroaching on their own lives. If Target opens at 6PM and you want to get one of the "doorbuster" deals, you probably have to be lined up in front of the store at 5PM, so you can say goodbye to your Thanksgiving dinner as well.
These complaints have been swirling for years, but people continued to go out. However, that 11% decrease in sales and 5% decrease in foot traffic may indicate that people are finally actually boycotting stores that open at insane hours.
Fewer people looking for retail jobs = Harder to staff Black Friday
Have you ever had to write a schedule for Black Friday when your store is open for 30 hours straight? I have, and it's brutal. Even with holiday workers, scheduling this many hours is insane and makes you feel terrible as you have to overextend your employees just to fill the needs of the business.
This is hard enough when you are properly staffed, but retailers are now having trouble getting new recruits in the door since the economy has picked up. Indeed reports a 9% drop in interest in retail job listings and a 26% increase in positions needed. I'm not writing a Black Friday schedule this year (woo hoo!), but looking at those numbers, I still get a pit in my stomach thinking about how hard this is going to be for those who have to.
Digital is changing the game
Digital shopping is rising all the time, and fewer people feel the need to go out on Friday/Thursday to get a great deal. They know they can wait and get something just as good online. Even if the specific deals on offer at physical retailers aren't available later, the mere knowledge that you don't have to go out at a specific time to get ALL THE DEALS makes people comfortable waiting to get their gifts.
And when you look at the free shipping on offer from more big box stores and Amazon, there really is no rush to get something within a 24 hour time frame like there used to.
As a consumer, the most important thing to realize is that there may be more deals on Black Friday, but they are by no means the only deals you'll be able to get during the season. It's just one day in the holiday season and while it is a big day, it ultimately makes a small portion of many retailers' total income for the month leading up to Christmas. They have an interest in getting you in the store for the 4 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so keep you eye out for deals on the things you really want. If they're not on sale today, they very well may be next week.
And if you really are serious about standing up for the average retail employee, stay home this Thanksgiving and don't buy anything until at least the next day. The odds of you missing out on a great deal is pretty low, so enjoy your time with family and friends. And remember that your calls for better hours for retail employees on Facebook and Twitter don't matter if you still go out shopping on Thanksgiving. Trust me, their social media profiles can take the hit but their wallets can't.