Enough is Enough: Revisiting Black Friday

A few years back, I wrote this blog on some of the problems with the concept of Black Friday.  Fast forward to 2011 and things have only become worse, but there’s a glimmer of hope that the tides are finally turning on this hyperconsumerist day of madness.

First, a reminder from Wikipedia of what we saw in 2008, weeks before my earlier blog post was written:

In 2008 a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00 a.m. opening of the local Wal-Mart. As opening time approached the crowd grew anxious and when the doors were opened the crowd pushed forward, breaking the door down, and trampling a 34 year old employee to death. The shoppers did not appear concerned with the victim’s fate, expressing refusal to halt their stampede when other employees attempted to intervene and help the injured employee, complaining that they had been waiting in the cold and were not willing to wait any longer. Shoppers had begun assembling as early as 9:00 the evening before. Even when police arrived and attempted to render aid to the injured man, shoppers continued to pour in, shoving and pushing the officers as they made their way into the store.

Quite literally, these shoppers killed to get a “deal.”  And they did it in cold blood, with no regrets, and didn’t even let it interrupt their shopping rhythm.

Now back to 2011.  Not only have retailers continued to embrace this faux holiday despite the dangers, they’ve increased the breadth and scope of what it means to participate in Black Friday.  Last year’s “innovators” opened at midnight.  This year, Target and Best Buy have followed suit and Wal-Mart is opening at 10pm on Thanksgiving day itself.

Step back and think for a second.  Name three days a year when families all get together and spend time with each other.  If you said “Christmas, Thanksgiving and.. uh..” you would be correct.  Two days a year are reserved moreso than any others for family gatherings, time to be thankful, time to reflect on life.  Entire industries come screeching to a halt because family is more important than profit on these occasions.  Retail employees give up their evenings and weekends as well as most major holidays without complaint, but Thanksgiving and Christmas have been sacred.

This year, retail employees are expected to report to thousands of stores across the country at 9pm on Thanksgiving day to work ten, twelve, sometimes sixteen hour shifts. When the family gets together in the late afternoon and dinner is served that evening, how are these employees supposed to be able to show up for a sixteen hour shift right after dinner?  The only logical answer, of course, is saying “I’m lucky to have a job in this economy, so I will sleep instead of spending Thanksgiving with my family.”

And that’s the pushback we’re seeing now.  The petition for Target to end midnight openings on Black Friday has reached 80,000 signatures as of this hour, resulting in media coverage and interviews with the creator of the petition.  At the same time, it has inspired a lot of people in other industries (which get Thursday and Friday off every year) to launch counter-petitions directly targeting the petition creator, such as the cleverly titled “Anthony Hardwick: Stop trying to petition Target, and go to work like a normal American.

Someone doesn’t know much about the labor movement.

We’re seeing a repeat of every social issue to play out in the past year happening again with Black Friday.  The people are beginning to raise their voice; 2011 will be remembered as the year the people started fighting back around the world, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.  However, as people begin to raise their voices, they’re meeting some unlikely adversaries:  Other victims who prefer to continue being victimized for whatever strange reason instead of asserting themselves for a better society.

Why would someone demand that employees such as Anthony Hardwick (or Rick Melaragni, who created the Best Buy version of this same petition) “go to work like a normal American” and “start appreciating that you even have a job?”  Simple… because they’re Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires, and as soon as the universe corrects this injustice, they will rule with an iron fist, so they don’t want the people to start getting out of line when those millions are about to start rolling in any day now.

“I feel terrible,” Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn reportedly said at a conference. “We were going to be open at a much more civilized hour, like 3 or 4 (a.m.).”

Then do it.  It’s that simple.  Say it and make it so.

Need a more robust plan?  (Or more likely, need a more robust plan for next year since it’s likely too late this year?)

Issue a press release, match it up with an impassioned 30 second TV spot that also gets placement front and center on the website.  Tweet it and Facebook it.  Here’s what it will say:

“Over the years, Black Friday has grown into a monster.  Obviously, it was good for business, but when five a.m. became midnight, our employees spoke up. Retail is a challenging world. Our team gives up evenings, weekends, and most holidays to provide you with world class customer service. However, Thanksgiving is not negotiable. Our employees will be spending Thanksgiving with their families and we will open at 9 a.m. on Black Friday.  We hope to see you then.”

Don’t think it’s a good idea because it’s not what the industry is doing?  Screw the industry, be a leader.  Don’t follow.  Be bold, focus on the employee and customer experiences, ignore the trends and the bottom line will take care of itself.  That’s how confidence in your people works, that’s how leading the industry works.

Remember… if it doesn’t change from the top, it will change from the bottom, so it might be less messy to take the leap willingly.