As a child, I did not understand the appeal of Black Friday. Who would want to wake up early to go to an absolutely packed store with long lines? As I got older, I figured out that this is when my mother and my aunt would buy the majority of my Christmas gifts while saving as much money as they could. But even as an adult, my feelings towards Black Friday have remained unchanged, for more reasons than one.
Maybe it’s the Gen Z in me, but I would much rather stay home and shop online from the comfort of my own home. Though given the worsening state of the pandemic, it looks like a lot more people will be shopping online this year whether they prefer it or not. Many consumers have already opted to do all of their shopping online or via curbside pickup to avoid contracting covid-19. Curbside pickup seems to offer the most benefits to both the consumer and retailers. People are able to fulfill their need to leave the house by driving to the store and do not have to wait several days for their order to arrive in the mail. For the retailers, curbside pickup allows brick-and-mortar stores to stay open, more employees to keep their jobs, and no financial loss from shipping items to homes. Many retailers are encouraging this option for Black Friday this year to avoid having crowded stores when social distancing is more important than ever.
Some stores, however, are adapting and preparing to physically welcome customers inside. Several of the changes being made include pre-booked shopping times, wider aisles, additional registers, mask requirements, and limited numbers of shoppers allowed inside. Other retailers are getting creative. Walmart, for instance, will be offering their steepest discounts online first before making them available in stores. They will also be holding three multi-day supersaver events in stores to avoid having a large crowd on one singular day. Target and Macy’s will be offering their discounts over a longer period of time rather than on one day.
The holiday season brings these already-struggling retailers the majority of their yearly sales, so it is easy to see why they are trying so hard to bring customers in. From a marketing perspective, their approach may have several disadvantages, one being sales fatigue. If there are too many sales for too long of a time, the effect is diluted, and customers feel like they are not getting a deal at all. It is also important to note that there are still supply chain issues as a consequence of the pandemic. Popular items like outdoor patio heaters and indoor fitness equipment will likely be hard to find and might not go on sale at all.
2020 may also be the year that brings an end to the early Black Friday store openings on Thanksgiving Day. Opening stores on Thursday is controversial for multiple reasons. Thanksgiving is a day dedicated to being grateful for what you already have. Black Friday, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. It is all about getting more of what you want and obtaining more material possessions. Black Friday feeds off of greed – consumers get more things and save more money while companies make more profit. The fact that Black Friday comes the day immediately after Thanksgiving is disturbing enough. Retailers and their sales should not be stealing time from the holiday itself.
When stores open on a holiday, their employees are forced to work. These retail workers lose time to celebrate with their family. Due to a series of unfortunate events a couple years ago, I had the displeasure of holding a seasonal retail position and was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving. Truthfully, knowing I had to go into work later was a complete bummer to my meal and my day in general. While I was there working the register, customers kept apologizing for the fact that I had to be there and kept thanking me for working. I think that if they felt any form of sympathy for me, they would not have been shopping that night. All of this is a reflection of our capitalist beliefs that work (making money) and sales (saving money) are two of the most important things in life. But the truth is that we, as humans, are more than just our economic activity. We have lives outside of our jobs and we deserve a day to simply be with our loved ones and to not be consumers. Some job roles are essential every day, such as healthcare providers – but is retail really that essential that we cannot go one day without it?
Retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Dick’s have already announced plans to remain closed on Thanksgiving day. E-commerce is expected to break records this Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Swiss bank and money manager, UBS released a report earlier this year with predictions that e-commerce will make up one-quarter of all retail sales by 2025. It also predicts that 100,000 brick-and-mortar retail stores will close nationally by then. Evidence for these predictions can be seen with online retailer Amazon, which has seen huge growth and profit during the pandemic. According to financial data firm Facteus, consumer spending on Amazon between May and July was up 60% from the same time last year.
This Black Friday, it is more important than ever to be responsible. Is going into a crowded store during a pandemic really the best decision for yourself or other vulnerable people you may contact? Do you really need that discounted TV on Thanksgiving or can you wait one more day? How can you be considerate to retail employees on the most stressful day of work for them? Will your money be more appreciated in Jeff Bezos’s pocket or in a small business owner’s pocket? Shop wisely.
By Katie Alley