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Boycott Wal-Mart on Black Friday and Thanksgiving?

This article was written by in Consumer. 13 comments.


Someone I know is boycotting Wal-Mart. I would not be able to boycott Walmart myself, as I never shop there in the first place. My absence from Wal-Mart does not have any effect. I believe I’ve stepped inside the store twice in the past decade or longer, and I don’t remember why. The basis for avoiding the store came from visits long ago, while I was in college, and was reaffirmed by at least one of those visits in the past decade.

The stores are designed like bazaars, the people I encountered were rude and sometimes dirty, and the prices were no better than those I could find elsewhere. That’s enough to keep me away. The fact that the company does not respect its employees is another reason to avoid the retailer, but beside the point of my personal experience and preference.

Again this year, Wal-Mart stores featured brawls and arrests as people fought their way for a limited supply of marked-down items like iPad Minis. The store, and other stores like it, are not completely to blame. Yes, retailers manipulate the market to induce high demand and short supply, and this creates hysteria.

Why stores are open on the holidays.

Which comes first? Are stores, like those that open on Thanksgiving, forcing retail employees to spend less time with their families on this holiday, just responding to consumer demand? Or has the retail industry created this monster by hyping up materialism as a piece of American culture since the late 1940s through advertisements (including product placement in entertainment), changing how people living in the middle and lower classes expect to live their lives? Or has the public in the United States simply accepted this type of commercial messaging without wide criticism of behavior or philosophy?

That we’ve ended up with people trampling and killing others at Wal-Mart, like the incident in 2008, is a sad commentary on the state of American culture. The reasons that got us here are complex and intertwined. No, this type of activity, the mass hysteria surrounding the ever-expanding Black Friday time period, is not representative of everyone in the United States, however bad it looks to the outside world.

I not concerned that my not wanting to shop at Wal-Mart, for the reasons I cited above, makes me seem “elitist.” I also don’t shop in stores on the other end of the consumer spectrum, so I’m confident in the sensibility of my tastes.

“I pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving.”

This year, a popular campaign spread through social media: “I pledge to not shop on Thanksgiving. If I’m shopping, someone else is working and not spending time with their family. Everyone deserves a holiday.” A Facebook friend of mine responded to this campaign by welcoming the retail industry to the world he already lives in as an emergency responder. He, like doctors, firefighters, and police, work on holidays, but that’s understandable. If you’re in the business of saving lives, the calls can come at any time. Retail workers do not save lives. Do they deserve to be home with their families more than first responders do?

Others are calling for the government to intercede and force businesses to keep their doors closed on holidays. It’s an interesting concept; states and local governments have often historically required businesses to remain closed on Sundays. Officially, the reasons for these laws tend to be so employees can remain home with their families once a week, but you can’t ignore that the concept stems from a religious influence on government.

If shoppers led the way by refusing to shop on holidays, businesses would see no choice but to remain closed. But because every shopper wants to believe they’re scoring a deal, enough will take advantage of every opportunity. There will never be the a popular protest large enough to force stores to remain closed, but there will also never be the support for laws to do the same thing. We are headed towards a society where the retail industry will be open 24 hours a day around the holiday frenzy season.

Maybe working on holidays won’t be considered to be such a social problem in the future, if retail workers are replaced by robots (and if assaulting a robot becomes a punishable offense — there are many variables to consider). The prevalence of online shopping has probably prevented the adventures in brick-and-mortar shopping from being more deadly than it has been.

But isn’t “saving money” good for Americans?

It’s amazing that with all this focus on so-called saving money, Americans aren’t in better financial shape. Spending with discounts and bargain-hunting is far removed from “saving money.” Of course, it’s not amazing at all, because the prevalence of advertising and a culture of bargain-scouring results in more spending, not less.

As an individual, and certainly as a Consumerism Commentary reader, you may be able to exercise some control. You’re more likely to wait for only the best deals, buying only what you need, but overall, this approach to promotions, including advertising Black Friday deals and opening early, benefits the retail industry more than the purchasing public.

If these deals didn’t make tons of money for the retail industry, the shopping season would not be getting more intense every year. At the same time, a healthy retail industry is supposedly one of the keys to a booming economy. Then again, what worked in the years after World War II may not be as effective today. Retail profit margins are thinner than ever. Much of the profit goes to the manufacturers who are likely to be based outside the United States.

Can “Small Business Saturday” help?

Over the last few years, American Express has tried its own marketing campaign, supposedly to aid the economy. The company’s Small Business Saturday encourages Americans to spend money on the Saturday following Black Friday — after all their money has been spent, anyway — by patronizing local businesses. These are the businesses who can’t discount prices on the same merchandise found in large stores, but can perhaps offer products you can’t find elsewhere.

Small Business Saturday is however just an excuse to get consumers to use American Express cards more often, so the large financial corporation can increase its profits on swipe fees. Many small businesses do not accept American Express cards because the swipe fees (fees the retailer pays to credit card processing companies for each transaction) are higher than those for Visa and MasterCard, but then again, premium Visa and MasterCard credit cards, like those offering rewards and concierge services, can rival American Express in terms of high swipe fees.

So if you really want to help your local business and local economy, shop from small business as often as possible, and use cash.

How did you handle shopping through this year’s Thanksgiving holiday? Did you go shopping and did it take time away from your families? Did you use a Black Friday outing as a way to bond with your family like Erin did? Are you planning to shop locally on Saturday? Does Cyber Monday exist this year? What can society do to change today’s consumerism-focused situation, if you believe it does need to change? Can boycotting accomplish anything?

Regardless of what you’ve done on the consumer side of your life, I hope you — all Consumerism Commentary readers who celebrate Thanksgiving — had an enjoyable and thankful day.

Photo: Flickr/jbhthescots

Published or updated November 29, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar DonnaFreedman ♦45 (Newbie)

I went to Walgreens at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving and was the only one in the store for the first 20 minutes or so. By the time I left about five cars were in the parking lot.
I’d considered going back out at 7 p.m. to get a couple of other items. By that time, though, I’d cooked for and entertained four guests for five hours and the temperature had dropped to 11 degrees. Did I want to leave the delightful blaze in the fireplace insert and go back out? Nope.
I haven’t shopped today (Black Friday) but I may stop at True Value on the way to another couple of events tonight. In part that’s because the ad had a “50% off any single regular-priced item under $50″ coupon, but it’s also because I’ll have my two nephews with me and this particular store has amazing holiday trees decorated by employees and the kids get a kick out of seeing them. If I see something I want/need, maybe I’ll buy it. Maybe not, though.

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avatar Yana

I think people like to talk, and say things such as they won’t shop, but for various reasons it ends up being untrue. Consumers who are owned by marketers do just as they are manipulated to do, though to me it does not seem like much manipulation. They are ready and waiting for their strings to be pulled. As for our Thanksgiving, my husband had the day before and Thanksgiving off. I tend to decide at the last minute what we are going to do, but this year I knew a bit early that I would cook. And that is because my fave grocery store was selling turkeys for $5.99 with a $25 grocery purchase. I did the cooking the day before Thanksgiving so that we could relax and eat leftovers (same meal) on Thanksgiving. I’d said I would not enter a store on Thanksgiving, and then ended up going to the grocery store because my husband was out of sugar for his coffee. So we went to the store and also picked up some eggnog. We didn’t do any other kind of shopping and I don’t expect to today. I will actually have to keep in mind avoiding shopping I would normally have done from now until the new year, though I will probably end up at the thrift store before then.

In spite of what consumers say, they want this commercial, godless holiday season. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s a fun game for a lot of people. It is also something of a default mode for people who like to follow what’s “in” and would do anything to avoid thinking and independent ways of living. I think mostly, society gets exactly what it wants and votes for, literally and with the wallet.

I think boycotts are generally dumb and of little effect, just another game, because they are usually one-day events instead of a perpetual vote/demand from the consumer. An effective boycott is a permanent decision to reject a retailer or whatever one insists on having changed.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I did buy one thing online on Thanksgiving, but nothing in any stores. I can’t go there, I want my holiday to be a quiet time with my family. Today, Black Friday, I walked to a few small local shops and bought a few stocking gifts…..with cash, as you suggest. In fact, I try to buy all in-store holiday purchases with cash so that the after Christmas bill is not gargantuan. You couldn’t get me in a Walmart on Thanksgiving Day if you offered three free iPads….it’s just not happening.

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avatar Betsy Muse

My college-age daughters shopped for clothes at a few high end stores at the mall for the past two years, but neither went out this year. The only time my husband ever went black friday shopping was the year the Wii’s came out. He decided to just drive out at about 5am to see what the lines looked like and there were only two people in line at a Sam’s Club. He stopped and the manager came out and said there were 5 Wii’s in stock and gave him a ticket saying he would get one if he stayed in line.

That is our entire experience with black friday shopping. We all went to a movie today and spent time with friends. The movie wasn’t free, but it was worth it to be with our girls.

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avatar Kathy

I do shop at Walmart occasionally and do think that some prices are better there…especially on things like shampoo, toothpaste, etc. But I don’t shop anywhere on black Friday. I just don’t like the crowds. I don’t believe Walmart disrespects its employees any more than Target, or Penneys or any other retail establishment. The stores exist to make a profit and if the employees don’t want to work there, then they are free to find other employment. Oh, did I hear someone say that they are unskilled workers who can’t get jobs elsewhere? Then they need to develop their skill so they can. Or they could be glad that Walmart exists so they can have jobs. There are many jobs that require employees to work on holidays. Firefighters, police, nurses and doctors at hospitals come to mind. So I’m not sure why retail employees are supposed to be exempt. My understand is that management asks for volunteers to work that day and they get time and a half holiday pay. It gives some people who really need the extra money an opportunity to make a few more $$. Just my cold, hard-hearted opinion.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,435 (Platinum)

- Many employees can’t just find other jobs. Low-income workers can’t just quit and spend time looking for another job because that would leave them without income for a period of time, assuming they eventually do find another job. They can’t look for a new job while they’re working because they may already be working two or three part-time jobs — between that and other responsibilities, they can’t set aside the time. Having to learn a new skill is even more out of the question. The reality is that many people are just stuck there and can’t just learn another skill or find another job while they’re working.

- Already addressed in the article, retail is a much different entity than first responders. Why would someone even try to compare the two? There’s no need for the retail industry to function on a national holiday; there is a need for first responders to continue providing life-saving services.

- Wal-Mart may offer time and a half for Thanksgiving, but according to CNN Money, the company reduces regular hours over the following weeks to compensate. Thus, employees don’t really end up with much more money.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦45 (Newbie)

Hear, hear! So often people who aren’t low-income workers assume that the folks running the cash registers must be too lazy to look for anything else. Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than that.

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avatar Valerie Rind

My Black Friday shopping: Went to the Redbox kiosk at the grocery store. Used a coupon code to rent a movie. Total spent: $0.

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avatar Chris Jordan

I just do not get the holiday hype. I pay off my credit card to $2. to end the year with an open credit card, then fill my car gas tank, get the food pantry filled up to end the year well nourished, finally put the rest in my savings account. If something is out there that I cannot live without- amazing that I am still alive! Funny to watch George Carlins “junk” skit; but I want to avoid that ‘have to have this’ zone between more stuff and hoarding. Some good deals are out there; but no thanks. Happy Holidays!!

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avatar crashdamage1957

I agree with the sentiments expressed above that ” boycotts” of this nature are rarely effective..but, this is one that actually would work, at least in regards to Thanksgiving Day . If sales revenues of Wal-mart, Target etc for Thanksgiving were less than it cost to have the store open for that day, I suspect that they would be closed.But, baring some sort of Thanksgiving Blue Laws being put into effect, that is the ONLY way it would happen. Yana pegged consumer mentality pretty well tho, so I don’t see my scenario ever playing out in reality. As for us; Mr and Mrs Crash kept with our long standing tradition, and did all of our holiday food shopping needs prior to Thursday, reserving Thanksgiving for family, food, and festivities.

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avatar Edward

You could have a program where absolutely anything you wanted from any Black Friday sale would be guaranteed delivered to your door with free shipping and there would still be lines and crowds to get in the stores. Our society is full of crazy people and they’re just getting crazier and crazier. It’s a hard pill to swallow that the collective have lost their friggin’ minds, but it doesn’t change the fact. The fact that “Duck Dynasty” and “Dancing With The Stars” are the biggest shows on the tube has to point to something. Social Mental Defect Level = 82%.

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avatar Jon Maroni

I never shop at Walmart so technically I have boycotted them for life, but they’ve never really gotten any of my money so that may not count. I will say that ti often seems that the worst Black Friday stories and YouTube clips seem to happen at Walmart. This year was no exception, for that reason alone I will avoid that place.

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avatar Ivan Widjaya

That’s just sad. Back in the day, Walmart used to be the go-to place for cheap stuff but now it has gone ugly, huh? I guess it has something to do with mass selling. More stuff, less for employees. More sales, less quality of service.

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