Since World War II, catering to the U.S. consumer has been one of the most successful business strategies on the planet. Consumers are the primary driver behind the U.S. economy and account for a majority of the gross domestic product (GDP). Which is why retailers have historically pulled out all the stops when it comes to accommodating shoppers on Black Friday — one of the top sales days of the year — and increasingly on Thanksgiving day as well.
But recent retailer trends surrounding Black Friday and Thanksgiving suggest there is beginning to be a shift in core values toward allowing employees to spend time with family.
Retail purchases have always been rather seasonal in nature. Much of what consumers buy during the course of the year is purchased between Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the Depression in the 1930s, it became a tradition that the Friday after Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season. It didn’t take retailers long to realize that whoever persuaded consumers to buy when their unspent budgets were still available had an advantage over those who would try to entice shoppers to buy later in the season.
Over the years this led to what became called “Black Friday,” which for many stores is the No. 1 sales day of the year. Consumers are lured by various discounts into doing a large portion of their holiday shopping that day.
This strategy became so successful that stores began to expand their hours into the early morning and later into the evening the Friday after Thanksgiving. More recently, many stores have decided to extend their hours into Thanksgiving Day itself. While this predictably increased revenues, it also required large numbers of employees to work on this, one of the most family-centric holidays of the year.
Recently, however, there has been a trend toward better balance between catering to consumers and catering to employees on Thanksgiving Day. Dozens of national retailers have announced that they will remain closed on Thanksgiving Day, including Burlington Coat Factory, Nordstrom, Apple, Barnes & Noble, DSW and T.J. Maxx. In addition, the largest shopping mall in the country, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, has announced that for the first time since 2012 it will remain closed on Thanksgiving Day and will reopen at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.
The justification for the change was to allow employees more time with their families on the holiday. In many ways, this is a remarkable trend in a world where retail jobs are notoriously low-paying and where fourth-quarter stock prices are heavily driven by revenue numbers surrounding Black Friday. It suggests that there is a point of diminishing returns where employee well-being is more beneficial to the interests of companies than the prospect for marginal incremental revenues. In a societal environment where businesses are often viewed as insensitive to the interests of their employees, it suggests that there is a growing appreciation for the intrinsic value of employee well-being as it contributes to business success.
This is a welcome trend and one that we hope will gather momentum over time.