Shopping on Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m truly excited about it for the first time since 2012. You know why? Because I don’t work in retail anymore.

I really enjoy shopping a lot of the time, and I like getting a good deal as much as the next person. I have absolutely no problem with going out during the day on a Friday in search of some great prices. But there is literally nothing in the entire world that will get me to EVER go shopping on Thanksgiving or before the sun comes up the day after Thanksgiving, because I am not a terrible person.

I saw a meme on Facebook today that said “To those working this Thanksgiving, thank you for your services.” It had pictures of doctors, firefighters, police officers, and soldiers, people who do essential jobs for our health and safety that we really need every day. You know who wasn’t pictured? Retail workers, because nobody NEEDS to be buying shoes or sweaters on Thanksgiving! (I will argue that workers at grocery stores and some restaurants should have been included in the meme, because sometimes people really do need grocery stores to be open on a holiday that’s all about cooking, and some people rely on restaurants rather than cooking for themselves on the holiday. Hopefully people in these jobs have short shifts and receive special holiday pay.)

Even before I began working in retail, it was dismaying to me when stores began opening at 5 AM on Black Friday, and then 3 AM, and then midnight, and then 8 PM on Thanksgiving, and so on. Last year my Kohl’s store opened at 6 PM on Thanksgiving day, and there were at least 200 people waiting outside when I arrived about 5:30. Yesterday I saw a commercial for J.C. Penney saying they will be opening at 3 PM tomorrow. Honestly, I used to think that “Black Friday” was so named because it represented the evils of consumerism in American culture. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that someone explained to me that the “black” refers to all the stores’ accounts being solidly “in the black” (i.e. not in debt) after their huge sales.

After working three years at Kohl’s on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, I’ve seen some of the worst of humanity. Last year I saw two whole families (kids included) almost come to blows over a vacuum cleaner. The scanner was down on one of the computers at our customer service counter, meaning we had to type all UPCs and identifying numbers for coupons and gift cards in by hand on that register, and you wouldn’t believe the number of people who were rude about it, rather than being grateful that we hadn’t just shut the register down altogether. The pressure from managers and corporate entities for fast service and opening credit accounts becomes even more intense than usual. Last year my manager didn’t bother giving a full explanation of the weird process we were using to open new credit accounts on Thanksgiving night, and he seemed totally confused when I was so overwhelmed I was almost hyperventilating. My very first holiday season working at Kohl’s (at a different store), if I recall correctly, I had about eight hours (two short shifts) of training on the registers before I was thrown on all by myself on Black Friday. It’s common practice for retail companies to hire on extra help at the holidays, and in my experience they receive even less training than the new employees hired during other times of the year, who already don’t receive enough training before being thrown into the fire.

Some retail employees actually like working on Thanksgiving, either because they get holiday pay, or they don’t have plans with family and friends, or they’re looking for an excuse to avoid their family. But the vast majority would much rather be able to spend the day with loved ones, without worrying about their schedule and what time they have to be at work and whether or not they need to try to fit in a nap (especially if they’re going to be working through the night). For someone like me, who suffers from migraines when their sleep schedule is disrupted, it’s extremely stressful to try to be present and personable for a family celebration while worrying about working until 3 AM. The only reason any of this is a problem is that several thousand people feel the need to go out and buy more stuff on a holiday that’s supposed to be about being grateful for all the things we already have. And if you’re one of those people who thinks retail workers who don’t like working on Thanksgiving or over night should go find jobs in other fields, then you’re obviously tremendously privileged, because for most people, it’s not nearly that simple a task to undertake.

I’ve heard people argue that low-income people need the deals that are offered on Thanksgiving (most stores offer better deals on Thursday and over night than they do during the day on Friday), but if you look at the deals that will be offered as Christmas gets closer and closer, Thanksgiving/Black Friday deals really aren’t all that great. At most retail establishments, the best prices will be available during the two weeks prior to Christmas, especially when coupons and perks for points card or credit card holders are taken into account.

The long and short of it is that if you’re out shopping on Thanksgiving or before the sun comes up on Black Friday, you’re telling every retail worker you come in contact with that your desire to buy things is more important than their desire to spend a stress-free holiday with their loved ones. If customers suddenly stopped shopping during those times, major retailers would quit opening their doors because it wouldn’t be cost-effective. But as long as consumerism remains more important than thanksgiving and Thanksgiving, retail workers will continue to sacrifice family traditions to serve the whims of their corporate overlords, and most of them will spend their shifts thinking about how selfish and inconsiderate their customers are.

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