Holiday Season Retail Woes

Red velvet bows, Santa Claus cut-outs, the tinny jingle of bells over loudspeakers and the scent of cinnamon candles. These are all things you might find if you walk into any national retailer at this moment. The Christmas shopping season seems to start earlier and earlier every year, with stringed lights already adorning the holiday section at Target just as the Halloween leftovers went on clearance.

Thanksgiving has long been a benchmark on the way to the holiday shopping season. Like many holidays, the relationship-focused elements of Thanksgiving have been overshadowed by the looming shadow of commercialism. For even as we sit at our tables enjoying the evening meal, prospects of Black Friday shopping tinge our minds. Perhaps it would be more appropriate if we stopped calling it the “Holiday Season” and opted for the more descriptive “Season of Intensive Shopping.”

Nowhere is this change in attitude more apparent than for those working retail.

As someone who used to work for a large national retailer, I can attest that the same store decorations that bring some people joy only embitter my heart. Because when you work retail, you see the ugly side of the “Season of Giving.”

Working on Black Friday is hell on Earth, holiday pay and all.

And to matters worse, many stores are now opening on Thanksgiving itself, encroaching on this sacred time off. This year, Walmart, Gordman’s, Toys R Us, Target, Kohl’s and many other stores are opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of enjoying a meal with family, many employees at these stores will be working through one of the heaviest shopping sprees of the year.

Some retailers, however, are taking a stand. REI, a sporting goods store, has decided to close its doors on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, giving its 12,000 employees a paid holiday. Other stores have followed suit, though the list is much smaller than those open on Thanksgiving.

On its webpage devoted to the move, a large graphic states “REI stores are closing on Black Friday. The outdoors, and the website, are always open,” followed by the hashtag #optoutside.

Although it was probably a PR move, and the CEO received a lot of flak from his Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, it also sent a strong message to the public and other retailers: Thanksgiving should be enjoyed.

I can only hope that this causes an even bigger trend, and that soon more companies will see sense and at least return Black Friday to its proper time-frame: Friday.

More importantly, I hope that shoppers themselves take a stand. As the driving force behind the economy, it is consumers who have the power to change the focus on this holiday. Stay home if you do not need anything. If you do, be courteous at the very least.

This holiday season, I encourage you to focus on the wholesome aspects of holidays. While I recognize the importance of getting a deal, especially for college students, you should never injure another person (emotionally or physically) in your quest to save money.

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