Black Friday Savings Time: Stop Turning Back the Clock

November 13, 2012

Paula Rosenblum

Several countries, including the US, have a tradition of moving the clock back an hour in the fall and ahead an hour in the spring. According to Wikipedia, while Benjamin Franklin conceived the idea, it was officially proposed by George Vernon Hudson and first implemented in the US during the first World War. The idea is a pleasant one – more daylight in the evening in a season when it’s warm enough to enjoy it. If you read the Wikipedia entry, you find that it’s a fairly controversial subject, which is a surprise to me, because I love it.

Now we seem to have a new form of turning back the clock: Black Friday Savings Time. Every year it seems that Black Friday door buster sales start earlier and earlier. Last year, for our annual Black Friday issue, I hit the streets at 9 PM on Thanksgiving to see the lines forming outside HH Gregg, Best Buy, Target and other stores. This year, Walmart has raised the stakes again, and plans to open its stores at 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day (vs. 10 p.m. in 2011). Employees are finally calling “foul” and frankly, so am I. Let me tell you why.

First: while I’m not known as your typical “family values” type woman, I actually think it’s pretty important for people to spend some quality time with their families and friends. We sacrifice so much on the altar of work, shopping and our iPads. Why can’t we reserve a day or two each year to actually focus on the people we care about the most? I know the economy is still very unstable, but honestly, it’d be quite fine to start those sales on Friday instead of Thursday. Some years, I start my Black Friday reportage in the afternoon, and I’ve consistently found the stores pretty empty by 2-3 PM. So it’s not like there’s no more time to shop. We have a lot more to be thankful for than this week’s door buster. There are people in the Northeast US who, post Superstorm Sandy will be just grateful to have a warm, dry place to sleep (I have friends who still have no power, and others who actually no longer have homes).

Next and perhaps more importantly: it’s easy to say “Well, it’s a free market, so if you don’t want to go shopping, just don’t.” Well, that’s easy to say for the customers, but what about the MILLIONS of workers who will have to work the holiday? They don’t get a choice. And as difficult as it was for workers to drag themselves away from the Thanksgiving table at night to deal with a midnight special, this year, employees might have to miss dinner entirely to get the store floors ready for customers. I just don’t think it’s right or fair.

Finally: There’s really nothing pleasant about waiting in line for stores to open. I mean, I live in Miami, where it’s not awful, and I just waited in line for a couple of hours to vote (and that’s another story for another day). But in most places, it’s just bloody cold. I lived in Boston for a long time, and grew up in New York City. I know of what I speak. People will catch colds, miss work, and be miserable for days.

Those who believe in a free market believe it’s a self-policing economic model. And perhaps that’s true. But to take advantage of those who are looking to save some money by generating false enthusiasm for something that could easily be put off for 16 hours is just plain wrong. It’s not bad business, but it’s definitely bad energy. A Walmart employee that was killed in a Black Friday rush a couple of years back. Perhaps ironically, that terrible event happened in Valley Stream, New York, the town where my father owned a retail store for more than 50 years. He put two kids through college (neither my sister nor I paid a dime towards our education) and worked on Sundays himself to buy the clothes and summer camp supplies that were the core of his business. But that was his choice, and his employees never had to join him. As a kid, it was fun for me to go on those buying trips with him. I think if he was still alive, he’d still not open on that day. He really did have values. Issuing guidelines to retailers on how to insure another death doesn’t happen is a half-hearted measure at best. Where’s our spine as industry leaders?

Isn’t it time we took an introspective look at what we’re doing? Don’t we have a responsibility to our stakeholders (employees and customers) as well as our shareholders? “Family values” has turned into a euphemism for something very different. If we really have those values, isn’t it time to call an end to “Thanksgiving Savings Time” and turn it back to a day when we really did spend some time with our families? In New York City, you can’t buy a Big Gulp, but you can stand on line all night with “little gulps”. That just seems wrong. Please think about it for next year. End of rant.

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