Black Friday Shopping Collides with Labor Concerns

It happens every year. 

Tummies full from Thansgiving dinner, shopper across the nation queue at the doors of retailers offering normally unspeakable bargains on television sets, clothing and toys, toys, toys to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Retailers love Black Friday. Judging from their dependable response, shoppers love it, too.

But perhaps not all store employees. And tension among workers — over Black Friday hours and unrelated labor issues — are manifesting in 2012 in ways not previously seen.

For starters, some Walmart employees in stores throughout the nation may walk out on Black Friday. Union and activists are planning a demonstration at a Louisville area Walmart on Friday, expecting to draw perhaps 50 people — which may include some store employees.

The Walmart issues are broader than Black Friday  – the employees are upset about what they say are unfair labor practices.

Some Target employees, however, are upset that Black Friday actually begins at 9 p.m. Thursday — a national holiday.

A woman who says she’s a Target employee posted a petition on Change.org asking the chain to not open so early. It reads:

Since workers need to show up sometimes hours before the story officially opens, this will take much of Thanksgiving away from retail employees across the country. Target can take the high road and save Thanksgiving for employees like me and our families by saying no to “Thanksgiving Creep.”

The petition had more than 360,000 signatures. A similar petition was posted last year.

The discontent could be hurtful to businesses, USA Today notes. From a recent story in the newspaper:

But even if employers don’t back down, the protests by employees and others create an unfavorable narrative, says David Johnson, CEO of public relations agency Strategic Vision, which represents corporations and has worked with retailers in the past.

“It creates the public persona of these big corporations who just care about profit,” he says. “Thanksgiving used to be sacrosanct.”

With these issues in mind, I asked Brad Wilson, editor-in-chief of the coupon blog Bradsdeals.com, whether he suspected these high-profile instances will have any affect on shopping’s traditional biggest day.

Will the Walmart situation have much affect on Black Friday shopping?

If protests are isolated regionally and at only a few retailers, it won’t move the needle much on overall Black Friday or holiday retail numbers. If it spreads, I’d expect to see much of it absorbed by ecommerce, rather than disappear.

How do you feel Black Friday shoppers respond to calls from workers who say they’d rather not work so much on a holiday?

However they personally see fit. If it bothers you that stores are open on Thursday, don’t shop. Speaking with your feet has an effect. My sense is that there is not a critical mass against Thursday shopping to effect change.

How do you think shoppers feel about earlier hours?

I did a Google Hangout yesterday with a mix of shoppers who will all be going out on Thursday and Friday and a show of hands said all were positive about it. I don’t think it is black and white but on the whole additional opportunities to get good deals is a good thing for consumers, whether we personally want to take advantage of every last window personally or not.

What’s the outlook for Black Friday shopping this year? Are the bargains better than before?

The Top 20 list … is good context here. Under $100 for a flat screen TV and a good Samsung Galaxy tablet, or under $200 for a laptop, are hard or impossible to find other days during the holiday season or year as a whole. Black Friday used to be a lot of hype but since the economic collapse it has emerged has a very strong day to shop. I expect this year to be more of the same.

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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