Retail Workers, Consumers Upset With Thanksgiving Day Hours

Posted November 15, 2012 by
John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas

John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas

Facing increased competition from online retailers, a growing number of brick-and-mortar stores, including Target, Sears and Walmart, have announced that they will begin Black Friday sales on the Thursday of Thanksgiving, with some stores opening as early as 8pm, a time many employees might otherwise spend with family.  The move, according to one workplace authority, is likely to pay off for both retailers and job seekers, but warns there is the risk of negative fallout in the form of decreased employee morale and consumer backlash.

“Retailers are under immense pressure to get the holiday shopping season off to a strong start.  It is the busiest time of the year for them and Black Friday is so named because it is the day when most retailers’ sales move ‘into the black’ for the year.  As big box chains face growing competition from discounters like Target and Walmart, not to mention the fierce competition from online retailers like, they are all compelled to find whatever edge they can to get shoppers into their stores,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“That being said, these retailers are opening themselves to a potential backlash from the decision to open on what many consider to be a day that it is best spent with family, reflecting on all that we are thankful for.  Not only is there the risk of creating disgruntled workers, who feel they have no choice but to accept the holiday hours in this economy, but in the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, some Americans have soured on the corporate excess and the profits-at-any-cost mentality that some say helped hasten the economic meltdown,” said Challenger.

At last count, there are at least 40 online petitions on related to retailers starting Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving.  One of the most signed petitions, started by a California Target employee, had more than 200,000 supporters as of Wednesday morning.

“It is not as if no one works on Thanksgiving.  Airlines and airports operate just like every other day.  Gas stations are open.  Hospitals, fire departments, and police stations are fully staffed.  Many grocery stores are open for a limited number of hours.  Even the NFL plays games on Thanksgiving and, while players are handsomely compensated to do so, those employed at the stadiums as ushers, parking attendants, concession stand workers and security officers are probably not paid much more than retail workers,” noted Challenger.

“Obviously, you can’t close hospitals or fire departments.  Grocery stores provide essential last-minute Thanksgiving meal items, but also baby formula, medicine, and other products that should be obtainable every day of the year.  Some would even argue that the NFL provides a necessary service in the form of family entertainment and bonding.  However, it would be difficult to argue that the need to buy a deeply discounted DVD player or LCD television cannot wait another eight to ten hours.”

Shoppers and retail employees in three states will not have to worry about controversial Thanksgiving Day openings.  Just as state blue laws prevent people from buying cars on Sunday across much of the country, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island prohibit retailers from opening on Thanksgiving.

“The biggest concern for retailers should be the potential for fuelling discontent among employees.  Employee retention is always an issue in retail, which as some of the highest turnover rates of an industry.  So, there is a risk of voluntary departures just as the busiest shopping period of the year begins.  Those who stick around but are not happy about it might provide less-than-stellar customer service, which could threaten to push more shoppers toward online options,” said Challenger.

“Retailers should definitely try to staff Thanksgiving Day openings primarily with employees who volunteer for the shift.  Many workers will relish the opportunity to earn time-and-a-half or double-time with the holidays approaching.  Others will prefer the Thanksgiving Day overnight hours to the crack-of-dawn, 4am start time that was typical for previous Black Friday sales,” he said.

Challenger admitted that while some employees and potential shoppers will view Thanksgiving Day openings as a negative, there are positive aspects of the strategy.

“The early Thanksgiving this year and the push to start Black Friday sales a day earlier are likely to have a positive impact on hiring.  Several national chains began announcing significant hiring plans in early September.  People who were seeking temporary holiday jobs were probably hired earlier and will remain employed for a longer period.  The holiday hiring could stay strong through Black Friday and could continue into December if the sales prove to be successful and draw in more shoppers.

In its holiday hiring forecast, Challenger estimated that seasonal job gains were likely to be slightly better than a year ago, when retail employment increased by 660,200, according to non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In September alone, Challenger tracked announced hiring plans that will add more than 400,000 temporary workers to retail payrolls, including 90,000 at Target; 50,000 at Walmart; and 14,000 at Best Buy.

“So, from a job seekers’ perspective, the earlier openings are a good thing.  However, as the newest additions to the staff, these seasonal workers should be prepared for the fact that they will be the most likely employees to work on Thanksgiving,” said Challenger.

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