More clothing manufacturers and retailers are going out of their way to tout their sustainability credentials, from the use of organic cotton and recycled PET bottles to even accepting clothes in stores for recycling. But in recent years, the social side of sustainability has proven to challenge major fashion brands and retailers: Witness last year’s controversy over the Bangladesh factory fire and strikes at big-box stores such as Walmart over working conditions and pay.
In the U.S., employment within the retail sector definitely has its grim side, with many workers lacking benefits such as healthcare while stuck working highly irregular schedules. For the consumer who cares about the human side of where they shop, the holidays highlight these concerns even more — especially with the ongoing controversy over Black Friday’s ongoing expansion as more stores stay open on Thanksgiving.
Long the busiest and most lucrative day of the year in the retail sector, Black Friday has grown and merged into the Thanksgiving holiday itself. In recent years Black Friday has started to swallow Thanksgiving, with 1:00 or 2:00 am early Friday openings creeping into Thursday evening. Walmart has taken the lead, with its stores open all day on Thanksgiving; in fact, this year the company has upped the ante with Black Friday deals occurring throughout November. Not to be outdone, Kmart stores will open at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving morning with its “doorbuster” specials. These retailers claim workers have the option to choose if they want to work those days, but Kmart employees have let it be known the reality is far different.
While more conscientious consumers might choose to forego Black Friday on principle, at this point might an even better option be to support stores that allow their workers the day off to spend time with family and friends?
The political blog Think Progress has been aggressive in updating its readers on store chains staying open — or closed — on Thanksgiving Day. Some of the stores have long had a policy of shuttering their doors on Thanksgiving. Nordstrom, for example, has long had a policy of staying closed every fourth Thursday of November. The Seattle-based department store chain has a long tradition of ringing in Christmas with a traditional Black Friday holiday campaign. Consumers have reacted in kind; two years ago, a posting on its Facebook page detailing the policy quickly scored tens of thousands of “likes.”
Several discounters are also bucking the new trend of opening on Thanksgiving Day. Costco has long been closed on the holiday, choosing instead to open on Black Friday an hour earlier than its regular schedule. T.J. Maxx, which also owns Marshalls, has also announced it will stay closed on the holiday so that its employees can enjoy the holiday with their loved ones.
While many retailers that decide to stay closed on Thanksgiving are tight-lipped about the exact reasons for not opening this Thursday, other chains have taken a stand. Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook attracted attention for overruling the company’s marketing directors and deciding the vast majority of Apple Stores would be closed so employees can enjoy the day at home — the exception being three stores in heavily touristy areas in Honolulu, Las Vegas and New York. This year, Apple will continue to buck the new trend of starting Black Friday sales on Thursday and keep their doors shut. Meanwhile, outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which in recent years has taken several bold stands against Black Friday’s crass consumerism, will continue to remain closed on the holiday.
Whether opening its doors on Thanksgiving Day really makes a difference to a company’s bottom line is open to debate. Black Friday has always been the most lucrative day of the years for retailers, with the Saturday before Christmas also ranking high. Opening on Thursday may appear to give a company some competitive edge, but evidence suggests revenues generated on Thursday simply cannibalize sales figures from Black Friday.
Furthermore, when it comes to brand reputation, opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day poses its own risks. A recent survey indicated 50 percent of Americans thought shopping on Thanksgiving was a bad idea; only one-third supported keeping doors open that day. Of course, the sword swings both ways: The survey revealed a common attitude that while many shoppers will visit a store on Thanksgiving to score a deal, he or she will also resent the store for only offering such an opportunity on that day.
Such resentment is hitting more workers, too, especially considering the way Black Friday has morphed over the last several years. Split shifts are becoming more common as more stores will stay open over 40 consecutive hours during this time, while more workers feel bullied into working on this holiday over fear of losing their jobs. Some state legislators are contemplating bills that would restrict Thanksgiving Day hours by forcing retailers to pay triple wages on that day, but the odds are none of this proposed legislation will ever come to a vote.
Regardless, consumers who base their shopping decisions on how workers are treated can patronize the companies who wait until Friday morning to open their doors — or, of course, can simply avoid the mayhem altogether and simply stay home to enjoy a day with friends, family, football and food.