The event used to start bright and early-- briskly and with a sense of excitement in the air-- on Friday morning. Now the event has become a free-for-all, with businesses opening earlier and earlier to get first crack at the consumer dollars. In addition to some stores opening early on Thanksgiving, there are pre-Black Friday deals and early Black Friday sales. At any given time in November, a store may proudly proclaim, “Black Friday starts now!”
Most of the outrage about this evolution, and rightly so, surrounds the employees who have to leave their families to work on Thanksgiving. Polls last year revealed that 62% of Americans feel that businesses should be closed in observance of Thanksgiving. Sadly, despite the outcry and criticism, there will be lines of bargain-greedy shoppers at the door on Thanksgiving.
The unwritten rule of Black Friday was that it started at 6:00 am, then it was 5:00 am and 4:00 am. Granted 4:00 am was pushing it—employees probably only got 4-5 hours of sleep the night before. But then it was midnight, 10:00 pm on Thanksgiving and then 8:00 pm on Thanksgiving. The campaign is obvious, in addition to offering the best deals, get people to your store first. Customers only have so much money to spend. The stakes are high, Black Friday revenue approaches $64 billion.
For those who do not quite understand the evil side of capitalism, this progression provides a perfect microcosm. Competition in the marketplace is a good thing; it’s perhaps the most attractive side of capitalism. It’s what drives prices, through supply and demand, into equilibrium. And it works best when there is fair competition—that is companies playing by the same rules (whether written or unwritten). Companies that succeed should do so because of their processes—whether it is engineering, marketing or supply chain management.
The dirty side of capitalism is greed-inspired bending of the rules: lack of cultural consideration, mistreatment of employees, destruction of the environment and abuse of political influence. Businesses look for every advantage to decrease costs and increase profits. Of course, Black Friday is successful because lower prices create a great demand—a sales frenzy on the out-of-balance economic equilibrium--which in turn gets people out at all hours of the day and night.
It’s what capitalism does in the name of profits—the competition is so intense that it pushes ethical, moral and cultural limits. While employees are giving up time with their families on the holiday, you can probably bet that the corporate CEOs are spending the holiday with their families in Aspen (or wherever rich people go).
And, to the dismay of many, when companies will not do the right thing, government needs to step in to level the field and protect employees. Mother Jones reported that two Ohio lawmakers, Rep. Mike Foley and Rep. Robert Hagan, have sponsored a bill that would prohibit retaliation against employees who do not want to work on Thanksgiving—and paying overtime wages if they do. The bill is designed to discourage retailors from opening on Thanksgiving and to require them to care for their employees if they do. Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled State House, despite their commitment to family values (Governor John R. Kasich even designated Thanksgiving Week as “Family Week”), is not likely to advance the bill.
What people see in regards to the greed surrounding businesses that open on Thanksgiving is what I see on a global scale with corporations. When companies play fairly, share profits and care about their employees, everyone wins; when companies put competition, manipulation and profit above social responsibilities, only the rich win. Get caught cheating too much and regulation steps in.
Of course, each one of us can do our part to force companies to close on Thanksgiving—just don’t shop. Stay home, eat a lot, play games and watch football. You can still shop on the real Black Friday.