Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and for stores around the country, that means Black Friday is bearing down quickly. For decades now, retail employees have unseated themselves from their post-turkey and stuffing bliss, lurching into the cold holiday night to open their shops so eager consumers can take advantage of once-a-year prices on gifts and indulgences.
Only the narrative isn’t holding up.
As with any sales strategy that thrives on one-upmanship, the race to the bottom was inevitable. Years ago, big box retailers like Wal Mart, Best Buy, and now-extinct Circuit City pushed the envelope by opening earlier and earlier, eventually leaking into Thanksgiving evening, a sacred time when we should all be permitted to relax on a couch somewhere and watch the Detroit Lions lose.
Eventually, for many malls and retailers the Black Friday Wars resulted in what amounts to uninterrupted open store hours from Wednesday through the official Black Friday; but at what cost? Retail employees, a significant portion of the American workforce, are forced to clock in (although some welcome the overtime). Their families must say goodbye during the holiday. Customers, fearing they may miss out on deals, uproot themselves to stand in lines.
And what is this dynamic in service to? Tracking SKUs demonstrates that, with a few flat screen exceptions, the deals are not that dramatic versus other times in the year. Sales receipts suggest that customers are onto the ruse. The Friday after Thanksgiving already no longer holds any real sway among premium or luxury brands. Retail in-store sales are ceding ground to digital, in lockstep with the other 364 days a year. Generally, it is true that discount outlets and inferior goods are making the most noise. And that noise is often a groan, enunciated by their fatigued workforce.
As a brand leader, maybe it is time for you to reconsider your Black Friday strategy. Gearing up for an exhausting one, two, or three-day extravaganza has become a passé tactic. It is worth measuring the potential lost revenue of staying closed on Thanksgiving and even (gasp) Black Friday itself against the benefit of increasing engagement, retention and appreciation amongst the employee population.
“I’m expecting 70 to 80 stores to close on Thanksgiving, with key stores this year to include Home Depot, Nordstrom, Staples, Sam’s Club, Costco and [likely] Lowe’s. There’s also speculation on some Black Friday websites about other retailers yet to announce,” said online shopping expert Brent Shelton on the Today Show.
Even Target, that stalwart devotee of Black Friday madness, will for the first time close its doors from midnight to 6 a.m. to allow its employees to rest, recharge and restock. (The savings on overtime during traditionally slow hours didn’t hurt the decision either, I imagine.)
The trend, it would appear, is in reverse. Many will continue to worship Black Friday almost religiously, and that does make some sense. The retail traffic numbers, while cooling, are still off the charts. Customers come ready to buy. A significant amount of potential revenue is just outside your front doors, and it can be hard to pass that up.
Black Friday is a relic from an era before the advent of digital shopping, predating the Amazon revolution. It is the most prominent of the few big calendar shopping days, and the first one on a retail calendar defined by Christmas. But it is actually only the third biggest retail-shopping day of the year, and its prominence will continue to decline as we do more of our gift shopping online. Maybe it is time to treat it with exactly as much regard as it deserves.
Or, stick with tradition, slap those “sale” signs up, set your alarm clocks early and get ready for the mad rush!