What does it mean to be thankful? For my family, we embrace the predictable practices of watching the parades in the morning and getting together with friends and family for a fabulous meal in the evening. If we are back in Baltimore and I can be with my older sister, we get up early Friday morning to go holiday shopping and take advantage of the “door buster” sales. We know that the bigger retailers (Walmart, Kmart, Macy’s, Target etc.) will have the greatest deals and discounts early in the morning.
But how early is really too early and will it really make much of a difference whether we shop at 7:00 a.m. or 12 midnight?
This year, the effects of Black Friday are hitting home. My friend, Sophie, is scheduled to work tonight. First, she’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. I am sure that she will relish spending time with her many nieces, grandnieces and grand nephews. Sophie, a widow, is 74 years old. Spending time with family, especially on holidays like Thanksgiving is a rare treat.
But after the food has been eaten, the desserts consumed and the left overs parceled out amongst the different households, instead of going home, Sophie will go to work.
Sophie has worked at one of the major department stores for over twenty years. At first she worked there because she wanted the employee discount, now she works there because she genuinely needs the money. Unlike many people her age, Sophie is a spry and energetic woman. I’m sure that she has an occasional ache and pain but she rarely complains about them. However, she has slowed down a bit recently and gets tired more easily than she did a few years ago.
Tonight this senior citizen is working the mid-night to 10:00 a.m. shift at a suburban department store because, she says, she has to.
Wait? She has to? I thought that employees LOVED working the Black Friday early morning hours, right?
According to Brad Tuttle’s recent article in Moneyland Time entitled Do Extended Black Friday Hours Actually Increase Sales?, “…the decision makers at many national stores are taking a literal approach by actually making Black Friday longer than a day, with extended sale hours that actually start on Thursday. The idea is: If something works, then more of it will work better.” According to many retail analysts, this justification is not accurate. “Instead of increasing sales, extended hours tend to just redistribute sales over a longer time period. Some consumers may be happier with the extended hours—preferring to shop at midnight on Thanksgiving night rather than 4 a.m. on Friday morning—but they’re unlikely to spend more overall.”
If the impact of “door busting sales” or early incentives isn’t drawing consumers into stores like they used to or impact spending, then why are large chain stores ruining Thanksgiving for many workers by making them come in on a national holiday?
Tuttle’s answer is clear: “We all feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, and no one likes to be left behind.” And that brings me back to Sophie’s story.
Because department stores and big retailers don’t want to be “left behind”, the executives and managers are willing to do what they feel is necessary to ensure that there is staff even when the customers don’t show, say at 2:00 a.m. Sophie told me that she has never been asked to work on Thanksgiving in the past but has always volunteered to work on “Black Friday” because she gets “time and a half” also known as “holiday pay.” For someone on a fixed a budget, she explains “I can make a lot more working the day after a holiday than at other times of the year.” But this year, she was told that she HAS to work on Thanksgiving and that all employees are expected to take a shift. As a way to compensate their employees, the store will offer “box lunches” to the staff. When I reacted somewhat sarcastically to her explanation, Sophie told me that this was the first year that store has ever given ANYTHING to the staff who work the graveyard shift on Thanksgiving.
I have to be honest, until this year, I never really thought about how staff feel regarding Black Friday. I figured, like me, there was a certain excitement to shopping at midnight. And Sophie agreed that being in the store when it opens at mid-night is thrilling but after the first group of shoppers have completed their sales, the store is basically “dead for a few hours.” She admitted that the next wave of enthusiastic deal seekers will appear around 5:30 a.m. I may be one of them.
I know that this year’s shopping excursion will differ from the ones of the past. This year, I commit to being more thankful and grateful to the many workers who give up their holiday to work on Black Friday. Maybe I will give them an extra “thank you” as I complete my transactions? Or ask one or two people if I can get them a cup of coffee? Even if they decline the offer, I want to be sure that the many clerks, security guards and other staff like Sophie know that I see and appreciate their willingness to work even if I am buying just a pair of gloves or a toaster at 4 o’clock in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving. As for Sophie? I intend to call her at 2 o’clock this morning (yes, I will be setting my alarm) tonight so she knows that she is not alone and is loved by many.