Black Friday is Here to Stay
REI announced it will once again close its doors on Black Friday. But this year the outdoor retailer will not only close all 149 of its stores on Black Friday and Thanksgiving, but it will also process no online sales and pay all 12,287 employees to take the day off to head outside instead. To most Black Friday critics, the specialty retailer’s decision to truly close on the biggest shopping day of the year is positive and pioneering, paving the way for other brands to follow suit.
However, for larger retailers like Kohl’s, Target, and Macy’s, which remain open on Thanksgiving, and, traditionally, Black Friday, the conversation isn’t so uplifting. Read the comments of any article on the subject, and people by and large claim these big-box brands are consumerizing an otherwise family-centric holiday. They’re furious at the thought of people not being with their families, and make claims that all these retailers care about is their bottom line.
Which, in large part, is true.
A Look Back
Since 1932, the day after Thanksgiving has been regarded as the beginning of the holiday shopping season in the U.S.. And the Black Friday we all know and love (or love to hate) has routinely held the title for the busiest shopping day of the year since the early 2000s.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, stores lost so much money that shareholders were desperate to solve their profit problem. As a response, stores began opening on Thanksgiving to jolt Black Friday sales. While there has been a slight erosion of Black Friday sales in recent years (in 2014, spending volume on Black Friday fell for the first time since the 2008 recession), this isn’t a decision retailers can easily undo. Wall Street’s expectations are now set, and shareholders will not accept a defeat on Black Friday.
If You Open it, They Will Come
The fact remains: Black Friday is simply too lucrative a day to pass up for these mega retailers. The novelty of closing on Thanksgiving and Black Friday is appealing — as is the message to unplug and engage with family. But the reality is, what REI does in sales in an entire year, many of these major retailers make on Black Friday alone.
What people fail to connect is that the stores are open because people — by the thousands — continue to show up and spend billions of dollars. As the media tends to report, shoppers will not only show up, but they will do whatever it takes to score top-tier items at a fraction of the retail price. They will wait (read: camp) hours for doors to open and line up at cash registers to buy the $19.99 faux feather puffer coats, or $15.99 brand-name boots, or whatever their children are asking from Santa. And for many Americans, this has become a family event, joining the ranks of parades, football games and tryptophan naps as a beloved annual Thanksgiving tradition. Consumers will shop, and they will, for the most part, be happy about it.
Contrary to public belief, retailers keep their teams top of mind when deciding to remain open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend. It’s a tough, tiring 72 hours for the millions of hard-working Americans employed by these retailers, but individual store managers work to make Black Friday weekend as fun of an experience as possible. They turn the chaos of crazy crowds into motivation to get excited and work hard in the company of co-workers. The adrenaline from the day trickles all the way down the chain of command and back up again.
At the end of the day, REI will be lauded for its decision to opt out of Black Friday. Its message that family time trumps a corporate sales boost will resonate with many consumers. For most major retailers, however, you can expect that the secret sales, slashed prices and early openings will continue for decades to come.
Logan Rodriguez is the director of retail at Square Root, a provider of store relationship management (SRM) software.