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Forget Black Friday: Eve-of-Thanksgiving Is the New Retail

Welcome to a slow economy and low-single digit seasonal growth. Say hello to 365/24/7 online competitors.

Should retail stores, or any business, be allowed to open on our national holidays? Apparently Target, Walmart and other big box stores do. They’ll be starting the holiday season even earlier than Black Friday this year, with most opening their doors on Thanksgiving evening instead of the next morning.

Small business owners who compete against them better take note: This is not a one-off occurrence. This is reality. And it’s just the start. I predict Black Friday is on its way out. Stores will open on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and July 4--and all other holidays. Like it or not, the days of days off for holidays are kaput.

Adapt to it, because shoppers will.

Even so, many are complaining about it already. "Can’t we have a rest?" a friend of mine said the other day. "Do we have to now be forced to get our bargains on Thanksgiving Day when we want to be with our families?"

This woman told me how “stressed” she felt because of the earlier store openings. She has a tight budget in these slow economic times and she relies on Black Friday deals to make ends meet.

This is the kind of society that we live in. More than two million people in the Philippines are homeless from a record typhoon, even more desperate souls are fleeing a civil war in Syria, and this woman is stressed because she’s being "forced" to shop one day earlier?

Here’s a new idea: Just because stores are open on Thanksgiving Day, you don’t have to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Stay home with your families. If you miss a sale and Uncle Ernie gets a pair of socks instead of a scarf because the socks are cheaper, he’ll cope.

Welcome to slow-growth America.

Retailers don’t want to open on holidays. No one likes asking employees to work instead of being with their families. Welcome to a slow economy and low-single digit seasonal growth. Say hello to 365/24/7 online competitors who will ship their customers shoes, shirts and toys any time they want and even accept returns at no additional charge. Welcome to a world where customers can take up a half-day of a salesman’s time, kick the tires, test out the equipment, try on the outfit, and then go home and buy the same product from someone on Amazon.com or Ebay for 10 percent less.

We asked for it. It’s the price of capitalism and instant gratification.

Workers and unions are up in arms, and of course they have a right to be. It’s demoralizing to work on holidays, even if your employer, such as Walmart, is attempting to placate you and your union with extra benefits for the effort.

But you know what’s even worse? Not having a job at all because your employer can’t afford to keep up with its online competition. And they cut back or, in the case of some retailers who are teetering on the edge, they consider folding altogether.

Even though protests are being planned and the government is watching closely, there’s not much workers can do. Not this time around. A deal is a deal. But deals can change. Now that we know that holiday openings will be the norm for retailers, we can renegotiate these deals. Unions will need to change their contracts. Employees must discuss days off in advance with their employers--or make vacation plans well beforehand. The big stores must be ready to pay more wages, more overtime, and better benefits to those employees who choose to work on these holidays. And they’ll do so if they can make ample profits.

So what’s a small retailer to do?

You can pretend this is not happening. You can complain and curse and talk about the good old days when you were a kid and Thanksgiving was special and there was no such thing as even Black Friday or, God forbid, Cyber Monday. You can keep your doors shut on the holidays even when everyone else is grudgingly opening them for commerce.

You can be like this business owner in Michigan who says “I’m going to be at home with my family, and hopefully that’s what all of our staff are doing. At the very least, I want them to rest up a bit before we get started on Friday.” That’s nice.

It won’t last. Like airplane pilots, policemen, hotel housekeepers, and taxi drivers, this is the life you chose. And this life will now require you to work the holidays.

You can fight the tide, or hope that the government gets involved (really?) or that the public resists the urge to take advantage of Thanksgiving Day deals and stays at home. But you’d be fooling yourself and hurting your business. More importantly, you’ll be hurting those very people who really rely on you and your business: your employees, your families, your partners, your suppliers, your customers.

 

 

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Last updated: Nov 21, 2013

GENE MARKS | Columnist | Owner, Marks Group

Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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