Do you think that retail stores, or any business for that matter, should be allowed to open on our national holidays? Apparently Target, Walmart and other big box stores do. They'll be starting the holiday season even earlier than Black Friday this year, with most opening their doors on Thanksgiving evening instead of the next morning. Small business owners who compete against them better take note: this is not a one-off occurrence. This is reality. And it's just the start. Soon enough I predict that Black Friday will become long forgotten. Stores will open like normal on Thanksgiving Day. And Christmas Day. And July 4th. And all other holidays. Like it or not, the days of days off for these holidays are going away.
But please... don't complain. Things change. Adapt.
Because shoppers will. That's guaranteed. Even so, many are complaining about this already. "Can't we have a rest?" a friend of mine said to me the other day. "Do we have to now be forced to get our bargains on Thanksgiving Day when we want to be with our families?" This woman told me how "stressed" she felt because of the earlier store openings. She has a tight budget in these slow economic times and she relies on Black Friday deals to make ends meet. Yes, she actually told me this. This is the kind of society that we live in. More than two million people in the Philippines are homeless from a record typhoon, even more desperate souls are fleeing a civil war in Syria, and this woman is stressed because she's being "forced" to do shopping a day earlier? Can you believe this? Can we get a grip? Just because stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day doesn't mean shoppers have to actually shop on Thanksgiving Day. Stay home. Be with your families. If you miss a sale and Uncle Ernie gets a pair of socks instead of a scarf because the socks are cheaper, then he'll cope. We'll all cope.
Retailers don't really want to open on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day either. They don't want to have to ask their employees to come in and be away from their families too. But welcome to retailing in the 21st century. Welcome to a slow economy and low-single digit seasonal growth. Say hello to 365/24/7 online competitors who will ship their customers shoes, shirts and toys any time they want and even accept returns at no additional charge. Welcome to a world where customers can take up a half-day of a salesman's time, kick the tires, test out the equipment, try on the outfit and then go home and buy the same product from someone on Amazon.com or eBay for 10 percent less. We asked for this. We do not live in a religious country -- there are no daily calls for prayer or invocations of God. We are capitalists. We demand instant gratification. We love to shop and want to be able to do so whenever or wherever we are. Retailers are doing what they need to do to stay competitive.
Workers and unions are up in arms, and of course they have a right to be. It's horrible to have to leave your family and work on Thanksgiving, even if your employer, like Walmart is attempting to placate you and your union with extra benefits for the effort. But you know what's even worse? Not having a job at all because your employer can't afford to keep up with its online competition and has to cut back or, in the case of some retailers who are teetering on the edge, consider folding altogether. And even though protests are planned in some areas and the government is watching closely, there's not much workers can do. At least this time around. A deal is a deal. But deals can change. Now that we know that opening on holidays will be the norm for retailers it will soon be time to renegotiate these deals. Unions will need to change their contracts next time around. Employees will need to discuss days off in advance with their employers. Or make vacation plans well beforehand. The big stores must be ready to pay more wages, more overtime, and better benefits to those employees who choose to work on these holidays. And they will do so if they can still make enough profits.
So what's a small retailer to do? You can pretend this is not happening. You can complain and curse and talk about the good old days when you were a kid and Thanksgiving was special and there was no such thing as even Black Friday or, God forbid, Cyber Monday. You can keep your doors shut on the holidays even when everyone else is grudgingly opening them for commerce. You can be like this business owner in Michigan who says "I'm going to be at home with my family, and hopefully that's what all of our staff are doing. At the very least, I want them to rest up a bit before we get started on Friday." That's nice. But it won't last. Like airplane pilots, policemen, hotel housekeepers and taxi drivers, this is the life you chose. And this life will now require you to work the holidays.
You can fight the tide, or hope that the government gets involved or that the public resists the urge to take advantage of Thanksgiving Day deals and stays at home. But you'd be fooling yourself. And hurting your business. More importantly, you'll be hurting those very people who really rely on you and your business: your employees, your families, your partners, your suppliers, your customers. The past is the past. This is the now.
A version of this blog previously appeared on Inc.com