Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Black Friday Starts on Thanksgiving Day for Kmart Employees

In an effort to grab the customers early, major retailers have kept lowering the bar on “open” hours around Thanksgiving. 

Until recently, “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – had not only been the biggest shopping day of the year, but an “event” that seemed to fuel customer interest in starting their shopping on that day.  But in the past couple of years, big-box retailers have begun inching into what had been “forbidden” territory – the secularly-sacred family day of Thanksgiving (the day before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year).

This year, Kmart has gone a major step further – they will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day and remain open for 42 hours, covering 18 hours of Thanksgiving and all 24 hours of “Black Friday.”  And they have done so with no concern for their employees, or for the PR backlash.

As a marketer, I can understand why Kmart wants to grab those “first fruits" dollars of holiday shopping.  The dollars you don’t capture up front will be spent somewhere else.  Which is why some retailers are hosting a Black-Friday-on-Wednesday sale (the window for “first day” keeps getting pushed back – in five years, expect to see the Christmas shopping season start on January 2nd).  Already, Amazon declared the entire week a "Black Friday," jumping the gun on both Black Friday and Cyber-Monday.  And they are far from alone - my email inbox is bulging with pre-Black Friday sales, all from retailers and e-tailers trying to grab those first fruits before they're spent elsewhere.

Who actually plans to go shopping on Thanksgiving (other than women who don’t like football, who decide – after dinner – that Extreme Shopping is more fun than schlepping beer and Doritos for the menfolk who can’t bother themselves to get out of their seats) remains a mystery to me.  Not sure who Kmart and the others plan to grab as first-minute shoppers, but I’m assuming this is more a defensive strategy (fearing Walmart and Target will do this whether Kmart does it or not).

But as a PR guy, I can see what this is doing to employees, what this “tells” people who still take Thanksgiving-at-home-with-the-family as a God-given right (actually, as a Federal holiday, it’s Congressionally-given right, but let’s not quibble).  The media has been quick to pick up on this, for example, this story from Fox News - and no media I’ve found has been swift to defend Kmart.  This will, I think, result in a consumer backlash as well – Kmart doesn’t have a “lock” on gift-goodies (they’re pretty generic), and that makes it easier for sympathetic consumers (like me) to show their pique by shopping elsewhere.

For instance …

As one of those who doesn’t work retail, I not only resent those companies which force employees to work on the most family-oriented (and, let’s admit it, football-oriented) holiday of the year.  Having worked in retail in my early jobs, my resentment for what Kmart is doing is going to transform itself into a boycott – this holiday season, I’ll preferentially shop at stores who don’t impose 18-hour Thanksgiving work-days on their employees.

But what should employees do?  They could speak out, at risk of their jobs – but if they do, their employer will suffer financially, which could lead to store closings and smaller work-forces.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. 

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