Christmas 2011: To Be (Open) or Not To Be?

One of the most controversial topics of the 2011 holiday shopping season pushing up the opening of Black Friday to midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving Night. Companies such as Best Buy, Gap, Kohl’s and Macys all opened up at midnight ahead of the traditional 4 or 5 a.m. start times, with others such as Wal-Mart and Toys R Us opening hours before the clock struck midnight.

At the center of the issue was whether retail outlets were putting profit ahead of consideration of their employees’ right to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. Popular sentiment is difficult to track.  There were numerous articles and reports about consumers not supporting Christmas shopping officially creeping into Thanksgiving.  Employees struck back via the Internet, with Target receiving more than 190,000 signatures on a petition protesting the company’s midnight start time.  Even though midnight is technically Friday, that requires employees to either work on little/no sleep or to sleep through Thanksgiving rather than spend time with family and friends.

This trend is not new to 2011.  Many companies have been gradually testing the water and evaluating the performance of their competitors who opened doors before the turkey was cool.  Contrasting the family friendly stance of Kohl’s 3 a.m. start time rather than midnight of their competitors, Kohl’s CEO Keven Mansell proclaimed in 2010 that “Somebody else is chasing a dollar? Let ‘em do it. I think our associates, and frankly our customers, deserve time with their families and that’s what Thanksgiving is about.”

Kohl’s opened at midnight in 2011.

Ultimately, retailers are out to make a profit.  More than three years into the current economic stagnation, they are desperate to stay afloat, even if that means cutting into traditional holiday time. Profitability leads to stability – stability for the company and its employees.  Consumers might respond to a survey that they do not believe retailers should open until the decent hour of 5 a.m., but it does not take a majority of consumers to move the financial needle.

The ultimate barometer in a capitalist economy is that the dollar is king.  If consumers failed to show up and stores are empty, stores will shutter their doors for a few more precious hours.  The early results from this year support the earlier hours with nearly one-quarter of all Black Friday shoppers being in the store at midnight, compared to 9.5 percent in 2010.  Although this is heavily impacted by more stores being open, it is the customer’s choice when to shop.

Maintaining employee satisfaction is integral to long-term customer satisfaction since they serve as the official company representatives, whether in-person, online or via phone contact center.  Companies need to remain sensitive to the desires of the employees, especially high-performing ones, so they are not spending time and money replacing top talent with new unknown representatives. Management would be wise to consider alternative incentives, such as providing preferable schedules on Christmas Eve or a floating holiday later in the season for those who work the Midnight shift.  Employees who then prefer those benefits to a relaxed Thanksgiving would be manning the shifts while more employees who value Thanksgiving time would be able to enjoy a second helping of pie.  Regardless of the incentives, it appears that consumers have spoken more loudly with their wallets than their signatures.  We now see which companies can turn this into a true win-win-win situation versus a constant public relations battle.

Until then, there are only 357 shopping days until Christmas 2012.

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